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					                              SECRETARIAL WARS

Linda Gould

Smashwords Edition


                              Published on Smashwords by:
Linda Gould

Secretarial Wars
                             Copyright 2010 by Linda Gould

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are
either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products
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                             TABLE OF CONTENTS

1 Did She Quit or Was She Fired?
2 Thank God It‟s Friday
3 The Raging Reject
4 The Interview From Hell
5 Recruited as a Spy
6 Bathroom Drama
7 The Great Escape
8 Lateral Promotions
9 Power Luncheon
10 The Nooner
11 A Toehold on Power
12 The Hot Files
13 Political Grenades
14 The Oxymoron
15 A Wakeup Blow on the Head


             CHAPTER ONE: Did She Quit or Was She Fired?

The best way for a secretary to let off steam is to walk long distances at a rapid pace
during her lunch hour. Miriam, on days when she didn't have anyone to eat with, often
attempted to explore the streets of Washington, D. C. Setting off from her Dupont Circle
office, she dodged a multitude of midday shoppers on Connecticut Avenue and bypassed
the crowded parks around Farragut Square, making for the freer spaces of Pennsylvania
Avenue. Here she picked up the pace, determined to glimpse a few symbols of power
before returning to her own puny responsibilities. She rushed past the White House,
casting a penetrating glance at the mansion that nurtured what she believed to be a
potential monstera warrior adept at picking fights he could win. Moving a couple of
blocks farther east, she sighted the Capitol building, looking serene in the distance but
harboring, no doubt, mini-monsters of its own.
By now Miriam was huffing and puffing in the summer heat, with her time more than
half spent. She paused before the building on Seventeenth Street that was home to the
International Communications Agency, the government entity that funded her own small
shop, the Grants for Peace Council. She lingered near headquarters for a moment, trying
to get a sense of the power that emanated from this segment of the Great Bureaucracy.
Succumbing to hunger pangs, she bought a bag of chocolate candies from a street vendor
and used the sugar boost to begin retracing her steps. Someday, she vowed as she chewed
the candy to a sweet pulp, I'll start eating betteronce my life improves.
The return trip, which lacked any sense of adventure, proved arduous. It was ten minutes
after one when Miriam returned to her cubicle, sweating and panting, to face the wrath of
whatever secretary had been covering the phones. Today it was Sally the Whisperer who
came by to give her the evil eye and remark, "It's about time," as she left for her own
hour-long break. Some days it was Ginny the Giggler, or someone equally
interchangeable with Sally. Miriam had divided all the women colleagues who were not
her friends into "gigglers" and "whisperers." She had, in fact, only two friends in the
officeJocelyn and Cass, both dear girls but polar opposites.
She dropped into her seat, clutching her fiery head in her hands. How stupid, she berated
herself as usual, to take such a long walk in the heat. She was tired and depressed when
she returned from these excursions, not to mention thirsty as hell, and indisposed to drink
the rusty water in the building. Coffee made her feel hotter, but she went for the coffee
pot anyway.
She had used up her after-lunch bathroom time. Most of the women spent the last fifteen
minutes of their lunch hours primping, as if they thought they were models as well as
secretaries. Miriam often skipped this ritual, feeling the hopelessness of it. If she looked
at herself in the full-length mirror, what encouragement could she get? She‟d see
shoulder-length dirty blonde hair with out-of-control curl, makeup smeared with
perspiration, pale arms that seemed to resist tanning, a slight bulge at the waistline of her
skirt that betrayed too many hurried, junk-filled meals. She stayed in her cubicle,
smoothing down her unruly hair and straightening her skirt as best she could. No doubt
any second the phone would ring and trigger a headache.
The very thought seemed to set the main line on her phone jangling. She picked it up, and
barely got out the name of the office before an irate voice assailed her. "This is Dr. Philip
Weston. I‟m an applicant for a teaching grant in Paris. I was told the decisions were to be
made by August first, so I want to know the status of my application right now."
Okay, Miriam told herself, you can handle this. You're a twenty-seven-year-old veteran
of the secretarial wars. You've been known to juggle three surly calls like this at once.
You're a professional; more so than Jocelyn, the twenty-four-year-old flower child,
although not so much as Cass, the thirty-five-year-old secretary to the Deputy Director.
"We're not really supposed to give out that information over the phone," said Miriam,
staring at the two asymmetrical piles of folders weighing down her desk. These
represented two sets of applicants for European teaching grants, all awaiting letters
announcing the decision of the selection committee; the rejection stack, naturally, was
twice as tall as the acceptance stack.
"Listen, miss, I‟ve waited long enough. If you can't give me the information I need,
connect me with somebody who can."
"I guess I can give you the information. Just hold on a second." Dear God, she prayed,
please let him be in the smaller pile. If I can just give him some good news, my life might
be saved. She rifled through both piles, finally locating Dr. Weston's folder at the bottom
of the rejects.
"Sir, I'm sorry to have to tell you this." She had developed no method for imparting bad
news, other than to blurt it out. "I'm afraid your application hasn't beenfavorably
"I waited four months to hear that? Tell me, are you the incompetent who's responsible
for my not hearing until now?"
"Listen, sir, I'm not paid enough to take abuse." Miriam's "professionalism" was on the
ropes as emotion shook her telephone voice.
"I want to speak to your superior."
"Fine," snapped Miriam. "Please hold." Before transferring the call, she punched in an
intercom number and waited for her boss to come on the line. She was supposed to screen
all calls, so that the Program Officer for Western Europe could be protected as much as
possible from routine inquiries or annoying clients. In this case, Miriam had failed at one
of the principal duties entrusted to secretariesseeing that her boss was not disturbed.
Besides, interrupting Renee when her office door was closed was a delicate matter; she
might be on her private line.
"A Dr. Weston is calling. He wants to know why he was rejected for the teaching post in
"Can't you handle it?" Renee was annoyed, as expected. "I'm on the phone with the
Director right now. Just tell him it was the Committee's decision."
"He says he wants to speak to my superior."
"Oh, all right. Send it in."
She's mad, thought Miriam, but to hell with it. She's paid enough to take abuse. Let's see
how well she handles a disappointed applicant who isn't gonna make it to Paris. With her
own French background, she's the perfect person to console him. In fact, with her
connections, her looks and her apparent friendship with the Director, she should be able
to handle anything.
Connections, thought Miriam resentfully. That's what success in government, or
quasi-government, is all about. Look at Renee, only two years older than I am, and all set
in life with a husband in a powerful position at headquarters, a mansion in McLean, and
an office of her own with a private pipeline to the Director. I mean, come on, that was no
business call I interrupted. I don't know how much her husband knows about her little
flirtation, but he's way downtown, out of the way. And the farther he climbs, the greater
use she can make of his positioneven if she‟s in love with somebody else.
If marriage is the way to promotion, expanded Miriam, what in hell can I do? There are
only two male Program Officers in this office, and I suspect they're both gay. Jocelyn and
Cass insist they're bound to connect with each other sooner or later. No, there's no chance
of marrying up in this office. Remember, Renee got it done early. She married her college
French professor and spent an extended honeymoon, lasting two years, in Paris. As soon
as they got home, the ICA hired them both, conveniently ignoring its own rules about
nepotism. Meanwhile, what did I do? Married a powerless mid-level bureaucrat at the
National Archives. You know, Jeff and I didn‟t split up because we hated each other. We
just bored each other.
Maybe this Dr. Weston will get me fired. Hell, maybe that's the answerthe quickest
route to a new life. I kind of like the romantic possibilities in wiping the slate clean and
starting over from scratch. Since my personal life is already empty, why not match it with
the cataclysmic loss of my so-called career? That double whammy might reduce me to
creative desperation, forcing radical life changes. What might I do? Go to graduate
school to study investigative journalism, then write a prize-winning series of articles
exposing the Peace Council as a sham? Toss all my belongings into my car and drive to
California on a madcap adventure, spending my life savings? Move in with my parents
and work temporary typing jobs until the Council relents and takes me back?
Miriam was diverted from her plans by the sound of Renee's voice raised in anger. She
got up and tiptoed toward the office door; eavesdropping was a practical art around here.
Without discerning exact words, she knew Renee was being taken apart by the
disappointed applicant. Then Miriam's intercom rang, driving her back to her desk.
"Miriam,” ordered Renee, “kindly transfer this call to Mrs. Broadwater. He wants to go
all the way to the top, but I told him he'd have to settle for the Deputy Director. I can't do
a thing with him myself."
"Okay, sure." Miriam couldn't wait to send the lethal call out of her area. Mrs.
Broadwater was tacitly recognized as the brains and guts of the organization, and
rumored to be an intimate friend of the President. She was the logical choice to handle a
rampaging client. Putting the hot potato on hold again, Miriam buzzed the front office,
which Jocelyn was supposed to be covering while Cass was at lunch.
"Jo, be careful how you handle this one. He's been rejected, and he's mean as a hornet."
"Thanks for the warning, but I can handle it. Nobody messes with me."
After completing the transfer, Miriam sat back uneasily. It was all too true that nobody
messed with Jocelyn. How would the most volatile of secretaries handle a call that
seemed destined to ricochet through the office until it took down at least one scapegoat?
Overcome by fear and curiosity, Miriam took the rash step of leaving her post. She
inched down the corridor, passing cubicles and storage cabinets on both sides, then
paused at the threshold of the Deputy Director's suite. Trying to keep one ear trained
toward the phone in her own cubicle, she awaited an outburst on this end.
What could Miriam do to protect Jocelyn from herself? She knew that the flower child
had two official reprimands in her personnel file, and that three were grounds for
dismissal. Firings for incompetence were rare, but Mrs. Broadwater was just the type of
supervisor to make one stick. Besides, Miriam believed the issue was more personal than
professional. It was clear that the very sight and sound of Jocelyn drove Old Prune Face
What traits of Jocelyn were most calculated to needle a sixty-year-old career bureaucrat?
Was it the mini-skirts, the multiple bracelets on her tanned arms, the punkish, bleached
hairstyle? Or maybe the long, confident strides in boots that almost reached her knees?
Those, Miriam had decided, were only symptoms of rebellion and not the real thing.
Jocelyn's main weapon of self-destruction would be her big mouth. A college dropout,
she was articulate in ways that Miriam, a college graduate with honors, could envy.
Miriam wished she possessed one-fifth of Jocelyn's honesty and directness. Any more
than that, she feared, would be dangerous.
If a firing were in the works at the Peace Council, it would be politically motivated. That
was something that Cass, a model of competence, couldn't understand. Cass, who kept
the personnel records, had been so alarmed by the two reprimands in Jocelyn's file that
she had invited both Jocelyn and Miriam to lunch last week to discuss the issue. That
occasion reverberated in Miriam's mind as she awaited the outcome of the call.

Cass had admitted to the sin of “ratting” on her young colleague. To make up, she had
offered to pay for a meal at a restaurant of Jocelyn's choosingonly to recoil at the
choice. "That Kramerkeller is the very thing that's dragging you down," she had
admonished in her maternal way. "You already spend half your lunch hours in that
nightclub, and probably all your evenings too."
"It happens to be my real career," said Jocelyn. "Now that I've been promoted to assistant
manager, I have nonstop business to attend to."
"What does an assistant manager of a nightclub do, anyway?" demanded Cass. Jocelyn
seemed reluctant to give specificsshe did "whatever needs to be done." Miriam
suspected that this mainly involved keeping her boss, Heinz Kramer, happy.
Despite her outward disapproval, Cass rarely turned down a chance to visit the
Kramerkeller. As the three women crossed Dupont Circle on their way to the club on
Eighteenth Street, she had a girlish bounce in her step. To get to the restaurant (actually
the opposite of a cellar), they ascended a long stairway with pictures of local rock stars
adorning the sides. Once at the top, they took in the seedy, hungover look of a nightclub
struggling to recover from its last bender. Echoes of past parties seemed to fill the
deserted room.
As the trio of blondes seated themselves in a booth, it was natural for each to relive some
scene or encounter that once had set a Kramerkeller night aglow for her. Cass glanced
with affection at the dance floor where she had enjoyed a few brief but sensuous
encounters. Miriam remembered gazing with admiration at the editor of an underground
newspaper who held court here whenever he managed to put out an issue. But Jocelyn
was the one who had truly loved and lost at the Kramerkeller. She focused on the
bandstand, as if trying to conjure up the guitarist she had lost to fame.
Snapping out of her spell, Jocelyn called to the bartender and lone waiter on duty, "Eric!
Bring us three glasses of red wine, pronto."
"Heavens, Jocelyn," exclaimed Cass. "Wine in the middle of the day? I'll fall right
"We'll have coffee before we leave. Our coffee's brewed for the purpose of getting
drunken secretaries back on their feet and back to their stupid jobs."
This remark goaded Cass to begin her lecture. "It's that attitude that's so disturbing,
Jocelyn. It may be a 'stupid job' but it pays the bills, doesn't it? And I've got to tell youI
overheard the Deputy Director talking to the Director about you. If you don't straighten
up, you might be in real trouble."
"In the first place, I wouldn't be in „real trouble‟ if you hadn't blabbed about my private
business to Old Prune Face. And in the second place, they can fire my ass if they want.
I'll survive."
"How will you survive? By moving in here?" Miriam thought she was being humorous.
"I guess you could live with Heinz in his office over there, behind the bar. I always
thought it looked like a cozy little love nest."

Miriam's reminiscence was suspended momentarily as Jocelyn told the irate scholar that
Mrs. Broadwater was not in. So far, so good. Maybe he would believe that, and ring off
without inflicting further damagealthough it would be a first for Jo to manage such a
task without ruffling someone's feathers.

Miriam recalled the main issue they had discussed at that luncheon, the incident that had
caused Cass's accidental betrayal of Jocelyn. One afternoon, a stack of urgent letters had
descended upon Cass, and she had sought Jocelyn‟s help. She had checked on the
youngster's progress after two hours, only to discover that not one letter had been
prepared for the Deputy Director's signature. Jocelyn had been busy at her computer the
whole time, working on personal business. Worse, there had been no way to avoid telling
Mrs. Broadwater, who was demanding to know the status of her letters.
"You understand, don't you, why I couldn't take all the heat for that mess-up? Even if
those letters were really my responsibility?" asked Cass. She had an airtight case, thought
Miriam, and should not be apologizing. "I simply had no choice. I had to let Mrs.
Broadwater know what was going on."
"You didn't have to tell her my personal business," responded Jocelyn. "Christ,
everybody does some of their personal stuff at work. And part of it was during my lunch
hour." True enough, conceded Miriam silently.
"But that's just it, Jo. You shouldn't be doing any of that sort of thing on office time, or
using office equipment. I‟m sorry, but that even goes for lunchtime." Cass broke off as
the wine arrived. The three women began sipping while they ordered the standard
Kramerkeller meal of cheeseburgers and potato chips. When Eric departed, Cass tried to
take up her argument, but the wine muted her efforts. This sweet, strong Kramerkeller
brand, reflected Miriam, was renowned for its power to promote sisterhood as it reduced
"What was so all-fired important about thatthat management proposal, or whatever it
was, that you couldn't do it on your own time?"
"None of your business," responded Jocelyn, mildly for her.
"It is her business," interjected Miriam, searching for common ground, "but you both
have a point. Cass should have gotten the help she needed since she was so busy. But
Jocelyn's work was important to her too, even if it wasn't officialurgent enough to get
done right away. Jo would have gotten around to those silly letters, even if later in the
Maybe Miriam was wasting her time trying to strike a compromise between her two
friends, when one was so irresponsible and the other so unimaginative. Still, she had an
inclination, being closer in age to Jocelyn, to try to broaden Cass's outlook. She turned to
her almost middle-aged colleague: "You know, Jo's project really is exciting. It's a
proposal for her and Heinz to manage bands that play here regularly. Just think how great
it would be if one of them made it big. It's happened before, you know. Nichols, Powers
and Judd got their start right here."
"Big deal." Cass's mood, after she had drained half her glass, was turning sour.
"Big deal?" repeated Jocelyn. "I suppose you know what it's like to be with the leader of
a famous rock band?"
"I wouldn't want to know," said Cass.
Liar, taunted Miriam silently. She'd give anything to know, and so would I. What do we
two divorcees think we're doing, sitting in judgment of Jocelyn because she couldn't get
her musician lover to marry her? Especially Cass, who was divorced twelve years ago
after a very brief marriage, and gives the impression of never having had a serious
relationship since?
"What is so all-fired wonderful about being used and discarded by Nick Nichols?” asked
Cass. “Do you think that makes you special? Groupies are a dime a dozen, Jo."
"It's better than being a dried-up celibate,” responded Jocelyn.
"Ladies, ladies." Miriam was shocked by the exaggeration on both sides. It seemed the
wine tranquilizer wasn't working so well today. Luckily the food arrived, and they began
digging to find the tiny cheeseburgers buried in mountains of potato chips.
"You know, I just talk that way out of concern for you," said Cass in a maternal tone,
once her hunger was appeased. "I think Nick was a total rat to refuse to marry you when
you were pregnant."
"You seem to have forgotten, he was married already," said Miriam.
"It was an honor to have his child," said Jocelyn, her voice shaking, "even if I had to give
her up for adoption."
Cass and Miriam waited respectfully while Jocelyn buried her face in her napkin and
shed the automatic tears that this subject aroused. But when Jocelyn raised her eyes, they
were more steely than red.
"I‟m not the only one at this table with a soft spot,” she said. “When is somebody gonna
point out to Mrs. B that you spend half your mornings discussing football with the stock
room guys?"
"That's not true," said Cass. "It's only a few minutes a day at most, and it helps relieve the
tension in the office. Besides, it also helps to stay on the good side of those guys."
But Cass's washed-out face flushed with embarrassment. It could not be denied that she
was obsessed with football. Whenever Darrell and Joe raised the subject with her, she
could get carried away. Their discussions, Miriam noticed, could go on for as long as
thirty minutes. Not only that, but Cass often snuck a look at the sports page of The
Washington Post during working hours. What intrigued her most was the quarterback
controversy that invariably swirled around the Washington Redskins, especially at this
time of year when summer training camp was at its height. Cass's position in this season's
battle was well-known. She preferred the venerable Larry Longford over the brash young
upstart, Pete Spencer.
"I'll bet your whole goal in life is to have Larry Longford's child," taunted Jocelyn.
"Really, Jocelyn," exclaimed Cass. The suggestion was outrageous, yet titillating. Within
seconds she succumbed to giggles, the others joined in, and any wild thing seemed
possible. The luncheon ended on that hilarious note, with Cass picturing herself seducing
a footloose quarterback and Jocelyn envisioning the return of Nick Nichols to the
Kramerkeller stage, and subsequently to her bed. Only Miriam, the peacemaker, had
failed to expose the dream of her life. She acknowledged to herself that she hadn't played

Jocelyn's too-sharp telephone voice snapped Miriam back to the present. "So what if I'm
lying? So what if Mrs. Broadwater‟s really there and just doesn‟t like talking to rejects?
That‟s standard operating procedure for this stupid program."
Where could Jocelyn be going with this? Miriam, stricken with guilt, dreaded to hear
some of her own rhetoric unfolding on Jocelyn's tongue. Yes, it was coming, fast and
furious: "Does anybody honestly believe this crap about Peace grants? A right-wing
administration isn't even capable of thinking about peace. They should rename this place
something like thethe Overseas Spy Council or the Covert War Council. Everyone
knows there‟ve been grantees in every cycle that are really recruited to spy on and
infiltrate their host governmentsYou mean to tell me that you, the great Dr. Weston, a
hotshot expert in urban politics, don‟t know the ugly secrets of the Peace Council? You
should be proud to be a reject."
Oh, God, Jocelyn had spilled it allthose half-formed theories of Council corruption and
malfeasance that she and Miriam had floated, without a shred of solid evidence, in many
whimsical conversations. What a way to have my life dream exposed, thought
Miriamthrough the ranting of a confused friend. Miriam knew in her heart that the
grant selection process was politicized and prone to abuses of power. Knowing it,
however, was not the same as proving it. She longed to get her hands on a piece of
evidence suitable for a newspaper expose. She planned to write an article with enough
gunpowder in it to blast the Council cretins out of their complacency. She would feed it
to Calvin Martinez, editor of The Free Paper, during one of his rap sessions at the
Kramerkeller. More importantly, she would impress him as someone who could use
words as weapons. He would turn those deep, dark eyes on her with fascination,
anointing her as one of his reporters.
But in the meantime, there was an emergency brewing here. What if Jocelyn's diatribe
were overheard by management, and somehow traced to Miriam? She might get fired
before she had a chance to expose anybody. Miriam rushed into Jocelyn's line of vision,
shaking her head, trying to stem the flow of anti-Council venom. But Jocelyn plunged
ahead in her take-no-prisoners style.
"On second thought, you should speak to my superior immediately. We both know she's
really here, hiding in that ritzy office of hers. I hope you‟ll repeat to her everything I said.
And yes, tell your Congressman too. It's about time the world found out that this Peace
Council doesn't fool anybody except half-wits."
With breathtaking matter-of-factness, Jocelyn transferred the call to Mrs. Broadwater.
Then she leaned back in her seat and grinned at Miriam, as if she had accomplished a
good day's work.
"Jo, what have you done?" pleaded Miriam, half hoping that her friend would get back on
the line and retract her remarks before Mrs. Broadwater got an earful of them. But it was
too late; the call had reached its ultimate target. Behind her closed door, the Deputy
Director was getting a secretary's unique view of the organization via a dissatisfied
"Miriam, what's the matter? What‟s she done now?" Cass materialized, having returned
from lunch fifteen minutes early like the conscientious secretary she was. Surveying the
office that she had left in perfect order forty-five minutes before, Cass sniffed carnage.
"Gawd, what's happening?" Sally the Whisperer, whose radar could pick up discordant
tones a good fifty feet away, rushed in to check out the scene.
"Looks like I've really done it this time, kiddies." Spurred by an awestruck audience,
Jocelyn jumped up from Cass's desk and seized the oversized purse that she carried
everywhere. She rushed out of the suite, parting the group as she went. She strode down
the hall to her own cubicle, where she set to work emptying the drawers. Many
un-businesslike items, such as sunglasses, suntan oil, curlers, photographic equipment,
and personal correspondence, were packed hastily. Then she slung the full purse over her
shoulder, returned to Cass‟s desk, and posted herself in front of it, waiting for Old Prune
Face to emerge from her office.
"It's not too late to apologize, you know." Miriam realized, even as she spoke, that this
was a ludicrous suggestion. The approaching confrontation was as inevitable as a
midsummer thunderstorm that erupts when the pressure reaches its limit.
The door opened, and Mrs. Broadwater stepped out. She looked more like a prune than
ever, with her tanned skin breaking out in wrinkles, her squat body, her rounded
shoulders. She stood there, trying to freeze Jocelyn in her grim shadow. But Jocelyn
faced her without a quiver, exuding youth and energy. How could she be so brazenand
so brainless?
"Please step into my office, Jocelyn. I'd like a word with you."
That cold politeness could stop an ordinary secretary's heart. Miriam would have obeyed
her like a sheep. Jocelyn, by contrast, set herself up as a heroine and a legend for the ages
by tossing her shaggy blonde head and stating, "Whatever you have to say to me can be
said right here, out in the open."
"In that case, explain to us where you came up with your fascinating ideas about the
Council's true mission."
Miriam's heart lurched; she knew she was done for. Jocelyn, in this honest mode of hers,
would not hesitate to finger Miriam as the source of many such theories. But incredibly,
Jocelyn covered Miriam with: "It's common knowledge, to anyone with half a brain."
"It's not common knowledge to me, and I've got considerably more than half a brain."
The Deputy Director seemed awkward and off-balance, which prompted Jocelyn to seize
the day: “Mrs. Broadwater, I might as well tell you something right now. Whatever
you‟re about to say to me is moot."
"Moot?" snorted Mrs. B.
"Yes, moot," repeated Jocelyn, liking the word. "Because I'm resigning from this place,
effective immediately."
Gasps went up from the other secretaries. No one tried to intercede, to turn Jocelyn back
from this perilous course. How could you dissuade someone who believed she had won
the battle? She had quit before she could be fired.
The Deputy Director straightened her stooped shoulders. In the voice of a judge passing
sentence, she intoned, "Well, Jocelyn, if you're convinced your employment here is
'moot,' then it is. Kindly stop by the personnel office on your way out, and fill out the
necessary forms." She turned on her heel, more gracefully than seemed possible for Old
Prune Face, and disappeared into her office.
Jocelyn strode toward the personnel office to make her resignation official. Only this
seemed to convince her more bureaucratic colleagues that she was in earnest. Sally
peeled off to spread the news, while Miriam and Cass waited outside the office for her to
emerge, carrying on a belated debate as to whether they could have done something to
save the foolish girl. When Jocelyn had concluded her business, they followed her out to
the street, afraid to let her go.
"What are you gonna do, Jo?" asked Miriam. "I mean, what are your immediate plans?"
"Maybe moving in with your parents?" asked Cass.
Jocelyn tossed back her head and roared with laughter. "Christ, you kill me. I'll be at the
Kramerkeller for the time being. Call me at Heinz's office later this week, and we'll have
"Jo, we've got to discuss this some more," said Miriam. But Jocelyn, hell-bent for her
"real" job, waved over her shoulder.
Miriam and Cass did not return immediately to their office. They stood together in
Jocelyn's wake for several moments, exchanging perplexed glances. Finally Cass said,
"Can you believe it? That girl will be practically homeless."
There were many things Miriam couldn't believefor instance, that anyone as vital as
Jocelyn had survived at the Council as long as she had. Miriam regarded Cass, the
quintessentially ordinary secretary, with silent scorn. She would rather be homeless
herself than become Cass in a few years.
Her disdain evaporated as she beheld a transformed face. Cass's cheeks were as flushed
as they had been that day at the Kramerkeller when Larry Longford's name came up. Her
eyes had grown positively starry. What was going on? Miriam perceived that Cass's
mind, like her own, had been set aglow with glimpses of alternative lifestyles, of
beyond-the-pale vistas. Both secretaries, still employed, had begun to contemplate
escapes as dramatic as Jocelyn's.


                   CHAPTER TWO: Thank God It's Friday

"If I were you, Jo, I'd try to avoid insulting Heinz in bed." Miriam's advice, made less
than coherent by the Kramerkeller wine, burst forth during a reunion luncheon on the
Friday following Jocelyn's departure from the Council. The three women were growing
flushed and fluttery from discussing their life dreams under the influence of cheap red
Jocelyn had spent the last thirty minutes regaling her friends with tales of the local music
business in which she was now immersed. She looked forward to an exciting professional
future, unlike the more gainfully employed Miriam and Cass. But Miriam couldn‟t resist
introducing an element of logic, an incongruous reality check. "What I mean is, Heinz
isn't stupid. He must know you're using himthat he's not the one you really love. You're
just yanking the connections he still has to Nick Nichols. Isn't that true?"
"Yes," chimed in Cass, wide-eyed but disapproving. "It‟s not smart to keep reminding
Heinz he's a frustrated musician and not a star like Nick. I'll bet if you compare Heinz to
Nick once too many times, he'll kick you right out on the street. Then where will you
"He won't kick me out." The assistant manager regarded the two secretaries with an
equanimity that scarcely seemed possible on the brink of homelessness. "Heinz needs me
as much as I need him."
"You mean," said Miriam, "that when Nick comes backif he comes backit‟ll be
mainly to see his old lover Jocelyn, not his old pal Heinz?"
"What do you think?" Jocelyn grinned as she laid down an itinerary. "Nichols, Powers
and Judd are in California right now, beginning a cross-country tour. They'll be hitting
Washington near the end of it, a little over three months from now. I'm already counting
the days until I see Nick again. I‟m determined we'll hit it off better this time. I'm so
much more together than I was before."
"You both talk like it's the second coming or something," said Cass, the wine blunting her
disapproval. Miriam could see she was getting a starry-eyed look on Jocelyn's behalf.
Even sensible women couldn't help relishing the colorful complications of Jocelyn's life,
a crazy quilt of superficial romances dwarfed by that one sublime, seemingly hopeless
love. Miriam found Jocelyn's ambition both demeaning and thrilling. Her young friend
would settle for being an ornament on Nick's arm if it meant sharing his glory.
This Friday was unfolding as if it were some kind of holiday. The women pushed the
envelope by ordering a second round of wine before their cheeseburgers and potato chips
came. "Boy, I'm really living dangerously right now," bragged Cass. "I don't know if that
house coffee will be strong enough to get me back behind my desk without Mrs.
Broadwater noticing anything."
"I hope she does notice something," said Miriam. "Maybe we should both make a point
of parading before her with our drunkenness showing. We can say we've been doing
research on local pubs, and decided to check out a German one for the benefit of our
Berlin-bound grantees."
"Sarcasm with Mrs. B is no way to get that promotion you want, Miriam," said Cass,
turning half-serious.
"Get real," said Jocelyn. "You're honestly thinking about a promotion in that hellhole?"
"Oh, Jocelyn, really," said Cass, “advancement is possible at the Council. I happen to
know they're about to advertise a Program Assistant slot in the Russian program that the
new guy, Andy, is setting up. It's gonna be a real responsible position, not just a glorified
secretary. And I hear they're planning to promote from within. I personally think Miriam
has as good a shot as anybody. Which of the secretaries is smarter or more educated than
she is?"
Flattered and encouraged, Miriam nonetheless downplayed her chances. "I don't honestly
think intelligence or education will have that much to do with it. It'll be more a matter of
which one of us is in Mrs. Broadwater‟s favor at the right timeGinny, Sally, Amelia,
Sandy or me."
"You left out Cass," remarked Jocelyn.
"Oh, I'm not in the running," said Cass. "This is strictly for the younger women. I know
I'm a career secretary." Her tone was so complacent that Miriam could have shaken
heralthough she envied the contentment.
"Wow, what a pretty picture that's gonna make," said Jocelyn. "Five of you scrambling
for one supposedly professional job, like pigeons on the street fighting over a stray
peanut. And all for the privilege of working for a faggot."
"Jocelyn," protested Cass, more sternly, “you know Andy's a good guy. What does it
matter if he‟s gay?” But it does matter, thought Miriam. The gender balance in that office
is intolerable.
"I don‟t personally care,” said Jo. “But if Andy‟s got a hand in the decision, he won't
necessarily be picking the sexiest chick in the office."
"That's just as well," said Miriam. "I wouldn't have a chance if he did." She smoothed
down her humidity-tossed hair and rose halfway to her feet to adjust her skirt. "Not that I
have a chance in hell anyway. I don't think Mrs. Broadwater likes me."
"What do you mean?" asked Cass. "Why wouldn't she like you?"
Miriam hesitated to explain to her unsuspecting friend that she was a subversive at
heartand that somehow Mrs. Broadwater knew this. What evidence could she offer,
other than the life dream that was tickling her brain at this moment? She could picture
Calvin Martinez holding court in his preferred spot, a pile of his scurrilous newspapers at
his side. She could see him eyeing her across the room with a come-on twinkle, goading
her to deliver the article that would blast the Peace Council, her career, and his heart all at
once. The images unfolded like a movie in her mind, while her two companions sat
drinking with her, oblivious to the true Miriam. They probably thought she was spending
this liquid lunch hour immersed in dreams of being a Program Assistant. How ridiculous
could they get?
Of course, it was her own fault if they thought thatshe never had told them otherwise.
Even with the wine flowing at high tide, she had yet to open up and share with them her
vision of Nirvana. Nor had she fulfilled an essential duty of friendshipencouraging
their dreams. On the contrary, she had belittled them. Why hadn't she urged Jocelyn to
pursue her true love, instead of placating a make-do love? Why couldn't she find words to
push Cass beyond this losing self-image of a career secretary?
Do it, Miriam ordered herself as she sipped recklessly. Tell your friends to throw off all
restraints and live as freely and dangerously as they can. Promise to try out a more daring
lifestyle if they will. Oh, that doesn't mean we should all rush to throw over our day jobs.
It just means we should begin to push the boundaries of those prisons to discover where
and how they might give way. We should investigate every crack in the wall, everyoh,
here comes the food, thank God.
The girls began to bulldoze their way through the mounds of chips that buried the tiny
cheeseburgers. As she munched, Miriam found herself distracted by Cass's flushed face.
When someone as naturally pale as Cass started pulsating in shades of red, it must mean
she was about to explode with news. The color spread, peeking through the trademark
neckerchief she used to conceal a slight wattle. Furthermore, reflected Miriam unkindly,
when was the last time Cass, of the ever-expanding hips, had paused in her assault on a
plate of delectable junk?
"I've got something to confess, girls." Nobody could accuse Cass of being mysterious;
she would blurt it out without prodding. Miriam supposed she had a heavy date. What
else would agitate a career secretary to this extent?
"I may resign from the Council soon."
Cass had managed to startle her friends; they even paused in their own munching. Never
before had Cass made the biggest sensation at lunch. She burst into giggles, enjoying
their reaction, but she did not back down. "I'm serious, girls. I've been thinking about this
for some time. It's not that I don't like my job. I even like Mrs. Broadwaternow, don't
laugh. She isn't so bad if you make an effort to get to know her. It's just that I'm
thirty-five years old and I've never really done anything exciting or meaningful. I don't
want to wake up one morning and find myself ready to turn forty, and realize it's too
What should Miriam say? Hadn't she vowed only moments ago to encourage the wildest
visions of her companions? Her troublesome practicality, her constricting logic,
oppressed her at times like this. "But what will you do?" she demanded. "It's not like
you've got some man to support you."
"Oh, I‟ll find another job," said Cass. "I'll always want to work. But I'd like to work at a
place where it's at least possible to meetwell, real men."
"You're the one who thought Andy had possibilities," Miriam reminded her.
"Andy's a nice guy," reiterated Cass. “That‟s all I meant. I never said he was my ideal
Her friends nodded. They knew about Cass‟s ideal man, and what a pipedream that was.
“I thought you could handle this stuff," said Jocelyn, pointing to the inch of wine left in
Cass's glass. "Why don't you order another round and tell us about this great job you‟re
gonna get where you‟ll have a chance to meetHim."
"Actually, I see two possibilities." Cass surprised them with a plan. "Not just for meeting
my ideal man, but for my careera job either at the sports department of The
Washington Post or at Redskins Park. Do you think it's possible, girls? Don't you think
they can use good secretaries at both places?"
"Those would be exciting jobs," said Miriam. "Have you applied yet?"
"Oh, no. I still have to figure out the best way to do that. Do I send them a resume, or call
them, or walk in, or what? It‟s not like they‟re regular nine-to-five offices.”
"I can see you‟re not about to resign from the Council this minute. This is gonna take
some time." Miriam's skepticism rose up, as always, to trample the free spirits in her path.
Like a stodgy cow, she thought, defacing a green meadow. She had made Cass hesitate,
forced her to consider practicalities. Meanwhile, Jocelyn rushed in, relighting Cass's fuse
with her usual flair.
"I don‟t see why it should take much time at all. I say it‟s more than time you girls started
to think big. The Post and the Redskins are the biggest acts in town, at least until N, P
and J return. I believe in aiming high, if you're gonna aim at all."
"It‟s fine to have big goals," said Miriam. "In fact, it's wonderful. But the Post? And the
Redskins? Those might turn out to be a little unrealistic"
She caught herself on the brink of saying something unforgivable. But there was no
denying that "ordinary" was the word to describe Cass. The true measure of this was her
inability to envision changing her secretarial character. Even if she managed to luck into
the most glamorous clerical job that Washington offered, her basic plodding nature would
keep her chained to a keyboard until she retired.
Miriam tried to atone. "Maybe I could help you write letters to the personnel
"To hell with writing letters." Jocelyn blasted this plan to the ceiling. "They'll just dump
those in the nearest recycle bin. What you gotta do is storm into these places and blow
them away. You gotta convince them they'd be crazy not to hire someone as bright and
vital as you."
"Oh, I'd just die." But on consideration, Cass looked as if she had found a way to die
"How‟s she gonna get past the security guards?" demanded Miriam.
"There are plenty of ways to bypass those types," said Jocelyn. "I can show you some
techniques. There's no place in D.C. off limits to a clever enough woman."
"Well, I‟ll give you this, Cass. There's no way you wouldn't meet your fair share of men
in those jobsreal men." As her own head began to pulsate, Miriam surrendered to the
fantasy of Cass's vision, suppressing for the moment the more troublesome "how to" part.
She plunged into a dreamy scenario with her friends, which featured a multitude of
athletes parading past Cass's desk all day long, strutting, flirting, attempting to make
dates with her and waggling introductions to her closest friends. Miriam and Jocelyn
benefited from Cass's imaginary good fortune by conjuring up their own favorite players,
guys who for their money could out-strut Larry Longford.
"So when are you actually gonna quit the Council, Cass?" pursued Jocelyn. "Once you
walk outa there, we‟ll know you're really serious about this."
"Of course she can't quit the Council until she has another job lined upeven if it's only
an interim job." Miriam's practical voice returned jarringly. "How in hell will she pay the
"Oh, come on. A conservative girl like Cass likes to squirrel away her money,” said
Jocelyn. “Cass, I'll bet you‟ve even saved enough to give yourself a luxury vacation
before you go after your dream job."
"I could sure use a vacation," admitted Cass. "I haven't had a real one income to think
of it, girls, I've never had a real one. I mean, I've never sat on a beach in Hawaii or
California or even Florida. All I ever do is go back to Charlottesville to see my folks."
"That's damned pitiful," said Jocelyn. "We gotta get you out of that rut before we let you
do anything else. Tell you what. We'll pick out some nice tropical paradise where you can
vegetate for a week, to gather your strength for the big job push. Who knows, maybe
you'll meet some tanned Adonis on the beach who'll put Larry Longford to shame."
"Oh, that won't happen," declared Cass, "no matter who I might meet on any beach." The
lovesickness brought on another flush. "I can‟t really explain why I feel this way, girls.
It‟s true Larry isn't everybody's cup of tea. I know he‟s got a paunch and a perpetual snarl
on his face. And I know both of you can name other Redskins you find much more
"Do ex-Redskins count?" asked Miriam softly.
"But I can‟t help it. Somehow he just gets me right here." Cass pounded herself below the
breasts, so hard that she might raise a bruise.
"I guess you can't argue with chemistry," said Miriam, eliciting agreement around the
table. They all were in love with men they knew imperfectly, if at all. At least they called
it love, even if it resided in their erogenous zones and was powered by fantasy rather than
reality. What if they really got to know these men some day? Would Jocelyn still idolize
Nick if she married him? What if Miriam managed to write a Free Paper article that
outshone Editor Martinez's own phrases? And Casswould she still cherish the
Longford snarl if she saw it up close?
Miriam and Jocelyn pressed Cass further to name an ideal vacation spot, but this sport
lagged when Cass admitted that she couldn't afford any exotic locales. Even Ocean City
and Skyline Drive, the most conservative choices, would be problematic for a single
woman who had quit her job. On this point she seemed immovableshe would leave the
Council at some point in the near future, even if she had found no other employment. But
in those circumstances, she would need all her savings to live on.
"Borring," said Jocelyn. "If you keep thinking like that, you'll never do anything at all."
"Oh, she will," said Miriam, "but she has to have a game plan first."
"Shit on game plans. Why don't you just do it? March on over to the Post building and
demand a job. It's only three blocks away, for chrissakes."
"Right now?" gasped Cass.
"Hell, yes. There's no time like right now. In fact, why don't we all go down there? It'd be
fun. And Miriam, you could ask for a job too. You're not doing anything else worth shit."
"That's not true," said Miriam. "I have a plan of my own. And it requires that I stay at the
Council for the time being."
This was news to her friends, who demanded details of her plan. Embarrassed, Miriam
blurted, "I just think a good researcher could uncover some kind of funny business going
on at the Council, and a good writer could get a decent article or two out of it. It‟s just
something I feel."
“Whadaya mean, funny business?” demanded Jocelyn. “You mean something about that
grantee who was killed in Columbia two years ago?”
“No, that was declared an accident,” said Miriam, “and I have no reason to believe
otherwise. I‟m talking about more subtle irregularitieslike grants awarded to the
highest bidder, or for political influence. Those sorts of things should be provable, but I
don‟t have the evidence yet.”
Her friends approved of her idea in principle and did not demand immediate action. Cass,
too, wriggled off the hook on the grounds that she was too drunk to act "right now." Even
Jocelyn remembered that she would not have time for the proposed job-hunting
expedition; she had a one-thirty meeting scheduled in Heinz's office with a musician who
had expressed interest in her management proposal. "I gotta sober up pretty quick, girls,
because in less than an hour I‟ll be persuading a young man to put his career in my
The women anchored themselves with the greasy chips and burgers. As they returned to
reality, their dreams receded but still hovered like a vague backdrop. “I'm tired of nothing
but hot air," said Miriam, disgusted with her own caution. "I‟d like to do something, but
there‟s never enough time. Don‟t you feel kind of trapped?"
The women ordered the follow-up coffee glumly and gulped it since their lunch hour was
almost over. Only Cass seemed to perk up in the process.
"Girls, there's something we could do right awayI mean, tonight." Her friends grew
attentive, waiting for the great idea that could be implemented so soon. Something should
happen on this Friday night, thought Miriam. She could sense it was to be one of those
steamy, throbbing August nights that compel you to storm the streets, grabbing at
romance and sidestepping danger. Despite frequent disappointments, she was a believer
in the one-night remedy.
"Let's rush down to Boxley Stadium right after work. I hear there‟re still some seats
available for tonight‟s game. I know it's expensive, even in pre-season, but wouldn't it be
fun? I might get some ideas about that dream job."
Was that all Cass could come up with? Anybody could go to an exhibition Redskins
game. The idea was unworthy of an ambitious womanand it wouldn‟t get her any
closer to employment with the team.
“Why should we care about a pre-season game?" scoffed Jocelyn.
"Maybe because we don‟t have regular season tickets," said Cass. She made a valid point.
Tickets for the games that counted, starting in September, were the hottest passes in
town. It was disheartening to be reminded that they couldn‟t go to one of those games
unless they paid a scalper some outrageous price.
But believing as they did in reaching Nirvana by small steps, they took to Cass's idea. "It
might be fun to go tonight," admitted Miriam. "After all, it's still footballa collision of
major hunks, I like to call it."
The idea caught fire. "Sometimes pre-season can be even more intense than regular
season, with players fighting for jobs," said Cass. "Especially the quarterbacks.
Everybody knows that starting job is up for grabs right now between Larry and Pete."
"I could take some pictures," said Jocelyn. "Maybe they let photographers get closer to
the action in pre-season. Anyway, it's worth a try."
The women formulated their plans. Miriam and Cass agreed to leave the office no later
than six that evening; if possible, they would rendezvous with Jocelyn at the stadium box
office around seven, an hour before game time. Hopefully, this would allow enough time
to grab three seats together.
Miriam and Cass returned to the Council and spent a restless afternoon trying to work,
but mostly worrying about those seats. At four o'clock, Cass telephoned the stadium box
office and learned that tickets still were available, but were "going fast." "Do you think
we can leave at five-thirty, to be on the safe side?" she asked Miriam.
"As long as we inform our supervisors," said Miriam. "That might be more of a problem
for me than for you. Renee's had her office door closed for the last hour at least. I can
only assume she's on her private line, talking to a certain exalted person we rarely even
get a nod from."
"Oh, Miriam. How do you know she's not talking to her husband?"
"With her door closed? When she‟ll see Anton as soon as she goes home to her mansion
in McLean? No, I suspect she's arranging a bonus for herself with the big boss."
The women dropped this subject as Sally the Whisperer stepped into Cass's suite. "Did I
overhear you guys say you're goin' to the game tonight?" she asked in her brassy southern
voice. "Too bad it's only pre-season. Frank and I have tickets for the regular season."
"Oh, God, don‟t tell me you have season tickets. I‟m so jealous,” said Cass. “How did
you get those?"
"Fred has business contacts with the owner, Mr. Boxley. A lot of his business and
political friends get bumped ahead on the season ticket list. Didn't you know that?"
Miriam had suspected as much. Could it be any surprise that elitism thrived in the stands
at Boxley Stadium? Act impressed, not annoyed, she ordered herself. Start buttering her
up now, and maybe she'll take you to a game this season.
"Maybe if we're extra nice to you, you'll take us to a real game some time." Trust Cass to
blurt out what Miriam had thought. Cass even looked at Sally expectantly.
"Who knows? Maybe I will," returned Sally in a teasing tone. Make no mistake, thought
Miriam; she's gonna hold those tickets over our heads all season long.
"We figure pre-season is more fun in some ways than regular season." There, thought
Miriam, I zinged her. "That's why we decided to go tonight, instead of waiting around for
the real thing." She might jeopardize her chances for the "real thing" if she didn't shut up.
"The crowds this time of year are more enthusiastic, since they‟re the ones that don‟t get
to go to the real games. At least, I‟ve heard how blasé regular season crowds can get.”
"Blasé?" said Sally. "How come I never noticed that?" She departed with a scornful shrug
of her shoulders. "Anyway, have fun tonight, girls."
"Don't worry, we will," Miriam hurled at her back. Now she felt more determined than
ever to prove that a practice football game could be a good time. "Cass, why don't you
knock on Mrs. B‟s door right now? Ask her if we can both leave at five-thirtyhell,
make it five."
Cass took the plunge. Three minutes later she emerged from the Deputy Director's office,
nodding in confirmation but looking flushed from the effort. "She says we can go, but she
doesn't look all that happy about both of us leaving early. She also wanted to know why
you were going over Renee's head. I told her what you said about Renee being
unavailable, and she just shook her head."
"Oh, geez, I didn't mean to get my boss in trouble." That reeked of insincerity, especially
since Miriam couldn't suppress a giggle. But it was done now, and the weekend was at
hand, thank God; if she could just return to her cubicle and stay out of trouble for another
forty-five minutes, any hot issue would have a chance to cool down.
Any hot phone calls, too. At 4:45, Miriam employed a trick available on the high-tech
phones: she pushed a couple of buttons that would "throw" her main line to Sally's
cubicle while she went to the bathroom. This was done to Miriam often enough without
forewarning; it was a frequent source of irritation among the secretaries. In this case,
Miriam would "forget" to switch the line back before it was time for her to leave.
Otherwise, she had no doubt that some irate scholar would call at the optimum time and
for the express purpose of preventing her departure.
She lingered in the bathroom for fifteen minutes, combing her hair, refreshing her
makeup and primping as if she had a date with a football player. She returned to her desk
at five, grabbed her purse out of its hiding place and stormed down the corridor to pick up
Cass. She couldn't avoid passing Sally's cubicle on the way. Sure enough, a heated phone
discussion was underway. Well, the privileged bitch deserved a little aggravation.
It took Miriam five minutes to drag Cass away from her desk, and another ten to coax her
away from the bathroom mirror. Free at last shortly after 5:15, the women made their
way halfway around Dupont Circle and descended into a seemingly bottomless escalator
pit, laughing and gossiping all the way. As they boarded the train, they continued to
dissect Renee's alleged romance with the Director, even veering into speculation that
Mrs. Broadwater might be jealous. By the time they reached the transfer point at Metro
Center and boarded their second train, they had left the office behind. Their faces were
turned toward Boxley Stadium, like those of numerous other fans. A new strain of gossip
infected them, involving figures that they couldn't claim to know personally but only
intuitively. They became embroiled in the perennial sport within a sport known as the
Redskin quarterback controversy.
Would it be Larry or Pete who grabbed the reins this season? The question was being
contested during the ongoing pre-season, a six-week trial by heat and humidity. The
women agreed to disagree on the likely conclusion to the on-field battle. They moved on
to the other struggle between the quarterbacksthe race for the altar. Both men had
dating lives worthy of the gossip columns. Would the publicity-loving, twice-divorced
Pete Spencer make the plunge with his African American girlfriend, a prominent member
of the City Council? Or would the equally divorced but more taciturn Larry Longford
finally marry the cocktail waitress often described as his "long-time companion"?
It was Cass's opinion that Spencer would marry first. He might even do it in mid-season
to make extra waves; it was just like him to scramble out of the pocket and throw long
when a more conservative strategy would do as well. She held out hope that the more
mature Longford would not take such a risky plunge; he was a pocket-style quarterback
who lacked sufficient arm to throw the bomb. Popular opinion had it that neither man was
totally corralled as yet and many women throughout the metropolitan Washington area
still cherished hopes of meeting them.
When Cass and Miriam got into line at the ticket window, Jocelyn was nowhere in sight.
Jocelyn had warned them that she might be late; if so, they were to buy three seats
together and leave the third ticket at "will call" under her name. At kickoff time, Jocelyn's
seat still was empty. "I guess something came up at the club," said Miriam, wondering
what could be so important. The thought depressed her, in spite of the fan excitement
rocking the stands. Real life was happening to Jocelyn at the Kramerkeller, she felt
sureperhaps a close encounter with a future rock star. Meanwhile, here she and Cass
sat in the bleachers of life, watching a panoramic battle from afar.
Snap out of it, Miriam ordered herself. Are you gonna ruin this evening by dwelling on
the more intense experience you could be having somewhere else? That is just like you.
You're not gonna give way to it, not tonight. Start getting with the mood, right now.
To facilitate this, she bought an oversized cup of beer from a vendor and took a swig. She
passed the cup to Cass, who took a few prissy sips to counteract the effect of the huge
pretzel she was munching. As Miriam retrieved the beer and gulped it down, she watched
in disapproval as Cass recoiled from her surroundings. The fuddy-duddy winced several
times, as if she hadn't expected a football crowd to be loud and raucous. She even held
her ears when a few nearby fans began letting out war whoops. Why couldn't she accept
the noisy, sweaty, cursing masses as part of the experience?
"What's the matter?" goaded Miriam. "Aren't you having fun?"
"Oh, sure," said Cass. "It's just that I know I'm gonna need a two-hour bath when I get
home." She proceeded to complain of many things essential to the atmospherethe
spraying beer and Coke that dampened her hair and skin, the illegal tobacco smoke that
infiltrated her throat, the beads of sweat that trickled down her chest and made her breasts
"This is what a football crowd is always like," lectured Miriam from the depths of her
previous experience, which, like Cass's, consisted of a few pre-season games. "Just hold
on, okay? You'll be in hog heaven the second Larry takes the field."
"Yeah, but when will that be?" asked Cass, dissatisfied. Pete Spencer had started the
game. In the politics of football, this might mean he had the inside track for the starting
jobor maybe it was a ploy to appease his fans. As the first quarter gave way to the
second, Pete remained at the helm, and Cass's complaints continued. The crowd roared its
approval for each acrobatic pass thrown by the young hot dog, many of them executed
while dodging tacklers. He soon had his team up by two touchdowns, and his partisans
celebrated all through the stands, certain that their man had seized the job.
Then, with less than three minutes left in the half, Spencer suffered the consequences of
his hubris. Throwing into coverage near the goal line, he saw his pass fall into the hands
of an opposing cornerback. The result was the most horrific possible, a touchdown the
wrong way. A grumbling silence descended.
"Didn‟t I tell you Pete doesn‟t have the maturity to handle pressure? Larry wouldn‟t have
thrown such a stupid pass."
Cass's passionate opinion carried a fair distance, owing to the temporary calm. "Aw, shut
up. What does a dumb broad know about it?" shouted a male voice a few rows back.
"Who said that?" demanded Cass, lurching around in her seat and peering up into a sea of
testosterone. No one confessed to the rudeness; it could have been any of a dozen
drunken louts. Within moments the women were distracted by the arrival of Jocelyn,
sporting her fancy camera and a triumphant grin.
"Girls, you wouldn't believe what I've been doing. I've been down in the lower deck for
the last half hour, shooting away. This lens is so state-of-the-art, it could get facial
expressions when the guys came off the field just now. Man, it was fabulous. Pete
Spencer was yelling his head off at whoever screwed up on that interception."
"Oh, give me a break," said Cass. "That was his own mistake. He's the one who threw the
ball, isn't he? Just like him to blame someone else."
"He didn't have good protection," said Miriam. "He had to rush his throw."
"Poor baby," mocked Cass. "Larry wouldn't act so childish. He'd just tell the guys to
shape up next time, and they'd listen to him. That's because he's a leader, not a prima
donna like Pete."
"Longford's nothing but a fucking has-been," said a voice behind them. "They shouldn't
even let him on the field."
"Just wait till he gets out there," Cass shot back. "He won't make such stupid blunders.
He thinks before he throws."
"Shit, he's too slow to do anything else," chimed in another growling voice. "He'll
probably get killed while he's thinking. Best thing that could happen to the Skins."
The anti-Longford contingent seemed too overpoweringly crude for one woman to
oppose. "Just ignore them," said Miriam, patting Cass's shoulder. "It wouldn't be football
without jerks like that in the crowd."
Accepting this advice, Cass settled back in her seat and fell to chomping on what
remained of her pretzel. By contrast, Jocelyn stayed on her feet, staring down the
loudmouths for several prolonged moments. She kept it up while she signaled a vendor
and armed herself with a beer.
"What're you all laughing at?" she demanded finally. Miraculously, the rowdies fell
silent. Jocelyn took her seat with a flourish, stroking her camera lovingly and disposing
of her beer at twice the rate that Miriam managed.
When halftime arrived, the women joined a long line at the nearest ladies' room. By the
time they had obtained some bladder relief and returned to their seats, Larry Longford
had taken center stage to prove what kind of leader he was.
He gave Cass ample reason to glow. In his tortured way, which seemed to defy the laws
of nature, Longford put up as many points as the younger, more physically gifted
Spencer. The first time he got decked by a defensive lineman, he came up limping. The
limp got worse as the game progressed, but Longford did not humor it. Unable to run
from tacklers, he dodged them as best he could. Lacking a strong arm, he lofted his
passes toward receivers. Red-faced and bellowing when his protection wavered, he
motivated his offensive linemen to heroics. He embodied the struggles of the aging, the
less than beautiful, the flawed-but-valiant.
"Pretty soon he won't be able to walk at all," said Miriam, watching Longford struggle off
the field.
"Even if he couldn't, he'd get himself back out there somehow," said Cass in her
worshipful voice. “It‟s incredible when you think that almost five years ago he shattered
both legs in a car accident. He wasn't expected to walk again, much less play football.
Think of the character it took to come back from that."
"And the lack of character it took to get into the accident in the first place," said Miriam.
"He‟s no saint," argued Cass, “but he didn't deserve that.”
Well, maybe not, reflected Miriam. No one deserved to be struck by an automobile, even
while trying to cross Dolley Madison Boulevard for some unknown reason on a foggy
November night. True, when the ambulance and police arrived on the scene, Larry's
blood alcohol level had checked out at twice the legal limit. But what was a star athlete to
do when fans pressed free drink after free drink on him at nightclubs?
At least he hadn't been driving when he was injured. But there had been several incidents
of drunken driving, before and after his misadventure as a pedestrian. How many times
had he been arrested? It hardly mattered. This theme of vehicular mishap was woven into
the Longford legendand no one seemed willing or able to take away his keys.
Longford's solid play earned him grudging respect from his detractors. For a while they
desisted from flinging barbs. Midway through the third quarter, the Redskins enjoyed a
comfortable lead, 28 to 17. Shortly thereafter, Larry's fortunes took a dive. Committing
an interception even uglier than Spencer's, he suffered a similar result. With the Saints
closing in, 28 to 24, he returned to the helm for the next offensive series, grim-faced with
determination but limping perilously.
"Give that has-been the hook!" yelled the gallery. "Run him out of town!" "Get him a
"Can‟t they see," protested Cass, “his protection‟s broken down?”
“That excuse gets tired after a while,” said Miriam.
Cass was goaded to list Longford's career accomplishments like a resume. "Four playoff
seasons in the last five years, if you count that first year when he was in the accident. One
championship game appearance too. I think that‟s pretty darned good."
"Not good enough.” Miriam raised her voice to be one with the crowd. "We want the
whole enchilada, right now, this season."
"So does Larry," shouted Cass. "He lives for that."
"What's your problem, sweetheart? You wanna fuck Longford?”
The sarcastic voice, assaulting Cass from above, made her gasp and redden. Miriam was
embarrassed for Cass, who had not meant to expose her lovesickness to the sneering
world. Nor was she prepared to stand up to the yahoos. Miriam searched the area, hoping
to sight another female or two who might harbor similar lusts. Surely someone would
join Cass in this spontaneous Longford fan club.
When no one of the sort made herself known, Miriam felt obligated to say something on
Cass‟s behalf. She twisted around in her seat and peered up into the beer-sodden masses,
without managing to pinpoint the guilty party. She called out, "My friend's just
expressing her opinion. You don't have to get so personal about it."
"Hey, another hot babe for Longford. Maybe they can be a threesome."
Miriam's mouth dropped open like a scandalized schoolmarm's. It stayed opened while
she tried to think of a comeback. Meanwhile, Jocelyn stowed her camera carefully under
her seat. The flower child stood up and faced the throng, holding aloft her second
oversized beer of the night. "Who said that?" she demanded. “Where‟s the creep?”
"What's it to you, sweetheart?" The guilty party materialized. "Wanna come up here and
shut me up?"
"Oh, I don't think that'll be necessary. You're not worth the trouble. Instead, how about
this?" With lethal swiftness, Jocelyn let fly the contents of her beer cup, which traveled
like a missile toward the offending face. The full blast sailed over a row of spectators and
reached its target with accuracy that Longford and Spencer might admire.
The scene froze like an action photo. Then a mini-riot erupted. The beer-soaked victim
lunged forward, extending a hairy arm over several bystanders. He grabbed a fistful of
Jocelyn's short, shaggy hair. The three women screamed in unison, joined by a mix of
voices. Miriam tried a defensive maneuver with her beer cup, which was still a quarter
full, but only managed to splash her own face.
"Somebody call security," exclaimed Cass, trying to swat away the spidery hand. But the
attack on Jocelyn was diffused. One of the bully's companions, exercising the skills of an
amateur wrestler, grabbed his arms and forced them off Jocelyn. Pinning his friend back,
the peacemaker exhorted everyone to calm down.
"Whadayamean, calm down?" Jocelyn's assailant elbowed his way free, then shook
himself like a wet dog. "Look what the bitch did to my T-shirt."
He thrust his chest out, causing all eyes to focus on this piece of apparel. It was indeed a
work of art, a white cotton shirt with a custom-made design in pink, white and black,
depicting a rock band in performance. Brown stains were beginning to set into the fabric.
"You're gonna pay for this, bitch."
"That'll be a cold day in hell." But Jocelyn failed to deliver this retort forcefully. Her eyes
were riveted on the colorful design, which throbbed with the man's tortured breathing.
"I can‟t believe it. That's Amorphous."
"What?" exclaimed her friends.
"The band Amorphous," said Jocelyn. "I just finished interviewing their lead guitarist at
the club. We're close to signing a management agreement."
"You're the woman from Kramer Entertainment?" The eyes that had bugged out in rage
now widened with fascination. "Man, that's so far out. I'm Brent Fame, the drummer, and
this is Grant Steamer, the bass guitarist."
"God, it's so weird to meet you both. I mean, what are the odds?" Jocelyn shook hands
with the pair and showed them her sunniest smile, the expression with which she did
business. "It's so cool you already have your own T-shirt. You know what? We could
market some of those when you guys play the Kramerkeller."
This and other business possibilities were discussed at rapid-fire speed. In the midst of
her wooing, Jocelyn apologized for the spoiled T-shirt and offered to pay for itor
rather, committed her boss, Heinz Kramer, to settle the debt.
"How about taking your meeting somewhere else?" asked an annoyed voice in the
crosscurrent. Several other spectators seconded this, so Jocelyn and the musicians left
their seats and hurried off together. Miriam watched them dart down the nearest exit.
"Can you believe her?" asked Miriam in Jocelyn‟s wake. "I mean, the way she operates."
"She's just a born businesswoman, I guess," said Cass.
"Oh, bull. She's been a full-time businesswoman for less than a week. No, it's her
brashness. I predict she'll be sleeping with one or both of those guys before the week is
Somehow this prediction failed to shock Cass as it should have. The raucous stadium
atmosphere must have hardened her in an amazingly short time. She had returned her
attention to the main action, while Miriam realized that her own thoughts had wandered
far from the game.
Nobody could deny that Cass's hero had grit. Recovered from his earlier catastrophe, he
went back to work and engineered a drive of steady if unspectacular plays. "Ball control,"
proclaimed Cass. "That's the name of the game." While the crowd hollered for more,
Miriam conceded that this strategy of safe running plays and short passes would grind up
yardage and time. Mistake-free, the Redskins drove deep into enemy territory at the start
of the fourth quarter. Then, stymied by a quarterback sack, they settled for a field goal
that maintained their narrow lead. The crowd grumbled at the absence of quarterback
razzle-dazzle, but soon cries of "De-fense!" rang out on all sides.
As the clock ticked down, both offenses slowed, and "de-fense" indeed seized the day. As
if to compensate for the lack of action on the field, small pockets of turbulence cropped
up all through the stands. Someone high up in the opposite end zone section set fire to a
program and waved it over his head for several seconds, until both he and the fire were
squelched by security men. In the lower deck, a firecracker exploded. These incidents
simmered down quickly, but soon a fight broke out in the high-priced mezzanine seats,
normally a sedate place. Spectators in that area tried to separate the combatants. Another
fight broke out in the section directly above the mezzanine, and fanned out in all
directions. As the violence surged close to the guardrails, Miriam expected to see people
fall to their deaths.
"Oh, my God," screeched Cass. "They're getting near the owner's box. That's where the
President sits when he's here."
"I don‟t think he‟s here tonight," replied Miriam.
"He might be. I've heard he comes to a lot of Redskins games. He's a great friend of the
owner, Mr. Boxley, and also of Coach Rudman."
"There‟s no way in hell the President would bother with a pre-season game." Miriam
found the idea so preposterous as to be irritating. "Besides," she argued further, "if he
were here, the Secret Service would be swarming the place."
"Maybe they're the ones mixing it up over there. They'd have to, if someone tried to
attack the President."
"They'd just arrest the guy who did it. They wouldn't try to pacify a whole section." But a
whimsical notion struck Miriam. "Unless it's some kind of revolution. Maybe a gang of
wild-eyed radicals invaded the owner's box and tried to toss out all the fat cats."
"You think that‟s possible?" asked Cass.
"Of course not, I'm just fantasizing. Nobody that important is here. I‟d lay odds that the
fight‟s about Longford and Spencer. This quarterback controversy is practically a war."
"You‟re right," sighed Cass, as if she were an uninvolved bystander.
Just a typical football fight, reflected Miriam. Although when you think about it, it has
political overtones. If you took a poll, no doubt you'd find that Longford fans tend to be
Republicans and Spencer fans Democrats. That‟s how opposite the two philosophies are.
What if I were to write up that theory for the Free Paper? Maybe an essay on the
politicization of sports?
Miriam began writing the article in her mind. She considered a wealth of evidence, from
the crowd as well as the game itself. She felt ready to leave this madhouse and go home
to assimilate the experience in peace. But the excitement level on the field picked up, as
the Redskins threw up their "prevent defense" against the possibility of a game-tying
touchdown. The crowd howled with dismay as the Redskin defenders dropped back,
allowing large gains in front. The opposition took advantage of the soft defense to march
into scoring position, but used up most of the remaining time. The game would come
down to a couple of desperate passes into the end zone.
"Hi, kids." Jocelyn chose this moment to reappear. "What's happening?"
"Can't you see?" exclaimed Cass. Everywhere spectators were on their feet, clapping,
stomping, screaming. Jocelyn reclaimed her seat with a smug smile. She adjusted the
light meter on her camera and began to treat the pandemonium as a subject for her art.
“That idiot, Rudman,” Jocelyn remarked as she snapped, “is gonna blow this game unless
he gets off his ass and starts coaching. Send the guys on a blitz, why don‟t you? Take a
risk once in a while, for God‟s sake.”
“He‟s been the head coach for five years,” argued Cass. “You don‟t think he knows what
he‟s doing by now?”
“I don‟t know about this time,” wavered Miriam. She sweated and trembled, as if her fate
depended on the outcome of a pre-season football game. She was being ridiculous, but so
was almost everybody else. God, she thought, why are we like this? Is it just a matter of
letting off steam, or is this game really important to us on some other level? We live
vicariously through our heroes, and like to believe they're fighting for us, like real
warriors. “De-fense,” she yelled.
The Redskins gave their fans what they longed fora last-ditch stand. The final pass was
batted to the ground, a screaming dud. Jubilation broke out in waves, uniting the crowd
and smothering its trouble spots. Cass had a chance to say I told you so. And Miriam had
barely experienced the moment, so intent had she been on philosophizing. How typical,
she berated herself.
Now that the game was over, its meaning faded. It would not have the permanent impact
of a regular season game. Miriam's mood sank as she and her friends got to their feet and
joined the departing crowd. Where was the zest for life that had possessed her when she
left the office, hell-bent for adventure? She had longed to immerse herself in Washington
power and glamour, but had failed to find it in this faceless crowd, now pushing her
toward the exit. Even the all-absorbing quarterback question remained unsettled.
Jocelyn and Cass seemed to be experiencing letdowns of their own. They found nothing
to talk about as they made their way down the ramps. Jocelyn had dropped her boasting,
as if she realized her evening's deals were shaky. As the women passed through the main
gate and into the night, a scalper approached them with a business propositionthree
tickets to the season opener for one hundred and fifty dollars each. They tittered at the
prospect of attending a real game, but declined regretfully. "Wouldn't it be nice if we
were rich enough for that?" sighed Cass.
Typical again, thought Miriam. True adventure always beckoned, always shimmered
before her like a mirage, only to merge into bland reality. She felt the stirrings of a
headache, the natural result of partying to no purpose. Convinced that life was a flat,
empty bore, she refrained from verbalizing about it. Who needed to know that this
evening resembled her life, with its overblown expectations followed by the inevitable
petering out? She could provide sad commentary, but no solutions.
Fortunately, someone else could. Just as the adventure had dwindled to nothing,
inspiration struck. "I got an idea,” shouted Jocelyn. "Why don't we go hang out at Lot
Ten for awhile?"
"Lot Ten?" repeated Cass. "Isn‟t that where the players park?"
"Only the ones who don't take the Metro like us." What's with the sarcasm, thought
Miriam, when my evening has just been reborn? I won't say another word. I'll just let Jo
lead me.
"You know where Lot Ten is, right?" asked Cass.
"I would guess it's somewhere between Lot Nine and Lot Eleven." I can't help myself,
thought Miriam.
"Let's follow those chicks," said Jocelyn, pointing toward a bevy of shockingly young
girls, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, who seemed to be making a purposeful arc
around the stadium. "Come on!" She pursued this promising track, with Miriam and Cass
on her heels. As they traversed the lesser lots on the way to their destination, they were
propelled by a swelling wave of humanity. It seemed that dozens of fans were joining this
excursion every minute, screaming "Lot Ten!" in a variety of intonations.
"Are you sure it's all right for us to do this?" panted Cass. "It's not a restricted area or
"Isn‟t this a free country?" snapped Miriam, suppressing her own doubts.
Leading with her camera, Jocelyn cut a swath through the troop of adolescents who wore
cut-away jeans and halter tops like uniforms. "Out of my way, jailbait."
Leave it to her, thought Miriam. She'll not only make it to Lot Ten, she'll get us a prime
position next to the tunnel where the players exit. Look at her, dressed for success in that
mini-dress designed to expose bare limbs and neck, those necklaces and bracelets
glistening with her sweat, that instrument of power slung around her neck. People will
step aside, thinking she‟s a professional photographer with bona fide credentials, not just
a semi-educated college dropout. If she has her way, she'll plant us right in the players'


                    CHAPTER THREE: The Raging Reject

"I haven't recognized a soul yet," complained Cass. They had been observing the parade
of athletes in street clothes for fifteen minutes, but only minor heroes had emerged from
the locker room. Miriam, who prided herself on knowing some of the humble cogs,
pointed out several offensive linemen as they lumbered by. She also recognized two
assistant coaches who were active in local charities, although she was hard pressed to
define their football roles. The crowd surged toward the support players, then retreated,
saving its energy for bigger game.
"Those guys are just as important as the real stars," Miriam assured her friends. "They
make all kinds of great deeds possiblesort of like secretaries." But no one seemed to
appreciate this comparison. Jocelyn shielded her camera from the crowd like a mother
bird protecting a nestling, while Cass looked hot and tired and ready to leave.
Suddenly, Cass grabbed Miriam‟s arm. “Is that who I think it is?" The crowd perked up
at the sight of a long, lean wide receiver noted for his agility. Employing an age-old star
trick, he moved past his fans with his hands full of clothing and other baggage, too
hurried even to sign a few autographs. A tremor in the crowd thrust the three women
nearly into his path. Jocelyn tried to ready her camera, but he was too fast. Only the sight
of Cass's eager face made him smile in passing, which gave her a burst of courage.
"Hi there, Darrell."
The wide receiver regarded Cass with an astounded expression, then shrugged and
hurried off. "I did it," exclaimed Cass. "I actually spoke to him. Did you see how
surprised he was?"
"He was mainly surprised that you called him Darrell," said Miriam, "when his name is
Don. You got Don Taylor mixed up with Darrell Trask, another wide receiver."
"Oh my God, I didn't." Cass clapped her hand over her mouth. The flush that consumed
her face was visible even in the spotty glare of the stadium lights. "How could I have
been that silly? What must he think of me?"
"I hardly see how it matters," said Jocelyn. “It‟s not like you‟re ever gonna see him
"Don't worry about it," put in a bystander, a middle-aged black man who was gasping
with laughter. "Old Don can use a shot of humility."
"You think so?" asked Cass, still worried.
“I know so. I‟m his minister.”
This revelation produced glee all around. Cass patted the minister on the shoulder, as if
the two of them had scored a triumph. Miriam was grateful that any racist implications
were apparent only to her. No one else knew that Cass had a disconcerting habit of
confusing black men with similar traits; it had happened more than once with the stock
room guys at work. Lacking any hint of malice, she got away with it.
The crowd grew more agitated. Jocelyn readied her camera and prepared to elbow aside
any of the jailbait who dared to challenge her position. A roar went up at the sight of two
huge defensive backs whose life's work was to rattle opposing quarterbacks and
preferably put them on the ground. The adolescents held back from these types, giving
Jocelyn a free shot with her camera. Miriam believed that one of these guys also was
named Darrell or Daryl, but which? She waited for Cass to repeat her mistake, but it
seemed Cass would not make a fool of herself again until it counted.
Amid the crush of bodies, Jocelyn snapped away and held the high ground near the
tunnel. Her face and arms were bathed in sweat. "I got a lot of great stuff already," she
panted, "but I still wanna get Longford and Spencer up close." As the crowd prepared to
surge again, Jocelyn remained anchored with Miriam and Cass on either side. Somehow
an intense, wiry young man, with a spiral notebook and pencil poised for action,
insinuated himself between Miriam and Jocelyn. The women exchanged a disbelieving
glance behind his back.
Jocelyn studied him for a long moment, then condescended to ask: "Are you by any
chance a reporter?"
"Sure am. Name's Louis X. Bell. I'm freelance, and semi-regular in The Free Paper. And
"I‟m freelance too," responded Jocelyn. "So you're waiting for the quarterbacks? When
do you think they'll come out?"
"With Spencer it's hard to tell," said the reporter. "He never met a camera or a mike he
didn't like. Once he gets rolling in there, he'll give his life story to anybody who'll listen.
Then he'll come out here and greet the masses like a politician. Speaking of politics, his
girlfriend, the Councilwoman, is waiting for him in one of those limos over there." He
gestured toward the far end of Lot Ten, where several limousines formed a sleek line.
“That‟s Lainie Palmer,” Miriam reminded her friends, “a former Peace grantee.”
"Now, Longford's a whole different story,” resumed Louis. “He's the opposite of a
politician. Unless he's feeling exceptionally good, he'll get impatient with the
interviewers in there and say something they'll have to bleep. Then he'll come roaring out
of the tunnel, pushing us aside and telling us to fuck off if we dare say anything to him.
He'll be gone like a shot, and not in any limo. He and Coach Rudman have been riding
together since the start of pre-season, and they've been going out of their way to avoid the
post-game crowds. It's like Longford's setting himself up as the Lone Ranger or
something. My information is they've been parking several blocks away in a pretty rough
"Longford rides with Rudman?" Jocelyn pounced on this piece of intelligence. "If Larry‟s
that tight with the head coach, he must have a lock on the starting job."
"He should," said Cass, “with his experience."
"Rudman doesn't control this team, except on the fieldand not always there,” reported
Louis. “He may look like he does, but ultimately he‟s the owner‟s lackey. Boxley makes
all personnel decisionsand he‟s very friendly with the President, you know. They go
back a long way, to their days as rising young businessmen in Texas."
"So what if they do?" asked Miriam. "The President doesn‟t run the Redskinsdoes he?"
"He tries," chuckled Louis. "My sources say he's up to his ass in the team's affairs. It's all
political to him."
"That doesn't surprise me," said Miriam. "That's occurred to me before." Damn, she
thought, this guy's gonna steal my idea about political intrusions into sports. And he‟s got
a leg up in The Free Paper. What sources is he talking about? Can the President really
intervene in a football team's personnel decisions? It sounds almost unconstitutional.
"So who does President Bailey like at quarterback?" asked Jocelyn.
"Longford, as long as he‟s ambulatory." Louis settled the quarterback controversy
irrefutably, although not to everybody's satisfaction. Jeers went up from the crowd,
counterbalanced by a "Yea!" from Cass.
Here we go again, thought Miriam. They're gonna start up out here like they did in the
stands. They don‟t realize that Presidential interference changes the game. Longford
versus Spencer will be taken out of their hands as it swells to the level of a national
scandalmaybe "quarterback-gate."
"Aren‟t Longford, Bailey and Boxley all from Texas?" Someone in the crowd had caught
on. "Those Texas boys sure stick together."
"That sucks, if Longford gets the starting job just 'cause he's from fucking Texas," barked
another voice.
More outrage ensued, spurred by the notion that this contest was rigged. "The owner has
a right to choose his own quarterback," insisted Cass. "Whose team is it, anyway?"
"The fans think it's theirs." Louis grinned at what he had started. "They want it to be a
With anti-Longford feeling at its height, the time was ripe for him to appear. Miriam
couldn't wait to see how he would handle this rabble. But more moments were
squandered as lesser figures continued to pour out of the locker room, distracting the
crowd. Where were the real stars?
Jocelyn flexed her limbs and jumped up and down as if ready to take matters into her
own hands. Was this flower child crazy enough to storm the locker room without press
She grabbed Louis's arm, causing him to juggle his notebook and pencil, but trying to
keep her voice discreet. "You know where Rudman and Longford park, right? How about
taking us there?"
Louis looked startled, but aroused. "I‟m not sure of the exact spot. Besides, it could be
dangerous. Are you sure you want to"
Jocelyn allowed no time for doubts. She broke away from the pack, tossing her head at
the tittering adolescents. Her new friend from the press, and her old friends from the
office, followed her irresistibly.
God in heaven, thought Miriam, what's she getting me into now? Within seconds they
moved beyond the ghostly cocoon of the stadium lights and the gravitational force of the
crowd. The distant lots stretched before them like outer space. With Louis in the lead,
setting a rapid pace, the adventurers sailed through the diminishing activity in Lots
Eleven and Twelve. Then they broke away, making for the ramshackle neighborhood that
beckoned beyond the stadium limits.
As she left behind civilization as she knew it, Miriam contemplated the sheltered life she
had lived; her companions, of course, were no different. A skittish group, they proceeded
down two city blocks as if dodging ghosts and goblins. Miriam panted and sweated,
caught up in the unexpectedness of it all and unable to turn back. The only way to
embrace an experience like this was blindly. If she survived, she would consider the night
a triumph.
The facades of the row houses they passed could have been human faces glowering at
them; Miriam was afraid to look. An intermittent breeze, usually a relief on a night like
this, doused them with insulting smells. A voice accosted them from a stoop: "Hey, what
you all doin‟ here? Hey, you" They ran from the epithets that branded them trespassers
and aliens. Recklessly, they turned down a side street, where incongruity struck them
A Mercedes-Benz posed like royalty in the center of a line of shabby and crippled cars.
Four African American boys, aged ten to twelve, hovered around the automobile,
regarding it with hungry but respectful eyes. Miriam took nervous inventory of the kids‟
garb—T-shirts, baseball caps and baggy jeans, in like colors as far as she could tell.
Longford and Rudman must have coaxed this gang to form a palace guard around the
Mercedes. Their protectiveness seemed to encompass the entire street, making it a safe
Louis strode up to the boys, his confidence restored. The tallest one stepped in front of
him. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna touch it," said Louis. "I'm Louis X. Bell, Free Press,
and I just wanna know who owns this automobile."
"Larry Longford own it. We're guarding it."
"How much is he paying you?" asked Louis.
"A hundred each. Fifty before the game, fifty after."
"Wow," said Louis. "I gotta hand it to Larry. You guys really like him, I'll bet."
The kids responded in a cacophony of praise for “the most bitchin‟ football dude alive.”
They had agreed not only to guard his car, but also to hold themselves above the
temptations of street life. “The man really treat us like we‟re something.” “Yeah, he tell
us we can make something of ourself, just like he did. „Cause he used to be poor, even
though he was white.” “He a regular fucking dad.”
It struck Miriam that those were not gang colors the youngsters were wearing, but
Redskins burgundy and gold. Now she could see what might possess a rich football star
to bypass the VIP parking lot and expose himself and his prized vehicle to the inner city.
It might be an in-your-face gesture toward the media, fans and teammates, but he had
fallen for these street kids.
"This is wonderful, what Larry's doing," said Cass in a tone of vindication. "You're gonna
write about this, Louis, aren't you?"
"I might. First I'm gonna stick around and see if he really pays off."
"And I'm gonna get a picture of that." Jocelyn readied her camera, drawing fascinated
stares from the kids. Miriam half expected someone to reach out and snatch it, but
Jocelyn diverted them all. She posed the group in front of Longford's automobile and
snapped several times.
A gale of laughter accosted them from the left. Miriam's on-again, off-again heartbeat
recommenced tapping like a distress signal. Another gang was approaching, evidently a
sarcastic one. Someone found this setup exceedingly funny. But on approach, the "gang"
looked more ludicrous than threatening. "Jesus, it's the jailbait again," said Jocelyn. "Can
you believe those little bitches? They'll do anything."
Look who's talking, thought Miriam. At least the jailbait have a few young men in their
group for protection, whereas all we've got is one hyper guy with a notebook and pencil.
Those underage girls are exposing enough flesh to accomplish almost any purpose. But
there're four of them, and only one quarterback and one coach to divide between them.
The coach is a married man, and Larry's supposed to be engaged. What‟s their plan?
What‟s Jocelyn‟s, for that matter?
"Here they come," cried out one of the street kids. He and his friends formed a reception
line on the driver's side of the Mercedes.
"Where?" demanded the growing crowd. Everyone looked for the spectacle of two burly
white guys jogging up the street. Instead, they saw a shiny new Chevrolet pull up
alongside the luxury car.
"What the hell?" said Louis. "They got a driver to bring them over here? I thought they‟d
be walking."
"Don't be an idiot," said Jocelyn. "I knew they wouldn't risk their precious carcasses like
we did."
The Chevrolet disgorged its two passengers and sped away. The coach and the
quarterback exchanged warm greetings with their palace guard. The payoffs were
accompanied by pats on the back, which pleased the kids as much as the money, or so
Miriam liked to think. Most of the crowd hung back, watching the ceremony. Only
Jocelyn shoved people aside to get at the scene. Achieving a suitable angle, she began
snapping pictures.
Longford wound up his transactions and approached the door on the driver‟s side.
Jocelyn squeezed herself between him and the car and began clicking in his face. “Who
the fuck are you?” he demanded.
Jocelyn told him her name. Before she could sputter her credentials, he swatted her aside
like a mosquito. His forearm met her chin, and she collapsed on the street in a heap.
Jocelyn‟s shriek mingled with outcries from her friends. The crowd parted, enabling
Miriam and Cass to rush to her aid. Longford ignored the uproar as he opened the door
and slipped into the driver‟s seat. “Come on, Rock,” he growled at the coach. “Get in so
we can get the fuck out of here.”
Rocky Rudman started to make his way around the Mercedes, but hesitated as he stepped
over Jocelyn. He extended a hand to help her upand the photographer snapped him in
the process. Longford leaned out to watch the spectacle. “Jesus, Rock, forget that
worthless shit. Let‟s go!”
The crowd observed the phenomenon of a coach taking orders from a player, something
not meant for public consumption. Rudman, looking flustered, proceeded to the
passenger door, while Jocelyn rose on her own strength and prepared her camera for one
last assault. She zeroed in on Longford‟s red, steaming face, and captured it for posterity.
The quarterback slammed the door, trying to catch her camera or her arm and barely
missing. He roared off in the Mercedes, scattering observers left and right.
The crowd he left behind was stunned and confused. The men began booing, too late to
reach the ears of the frequently booed quarterback. When the palace guard took exception
to this, a melee looked imminent. The young girls giggled and chattered over the issue of
whether the quarterback or the coach was the hottest, and debated who among themselves
might have been noticed for a second or two.
“He‟s an asshole, isn‟t he?” Miriam told Cass, who seemed on the verge of tears.
Cass grimaced at Miriam. “Look, he was being harassed. He couldn‟t help reacting that
“Cass, he knocked Jo down,” said Miriam.
“He didn‟t really knock her down, he just pushed her away. She deserves an Oscar for
that performance.” Cass raised her voice, so that Jocelyn and Louis would hear. “Larry‟s
never liked the press, and who can blame him? Every chance they get, they harass him
and trash him.”
The crowd gathered around the struggling Jocelyn, curious to see how injured she was.
Louis Bell steadied her, and she hugged him triumphantly. The two self-proclaimed
members of the press exulted together over what surely would be the story of the month.
“I got some dynamite stuff, I kid you not,” exclaimed Jocelyn, while Louis opened his
notebook and scribbled in the dark. “And you know something else? I smelled whisky on
Longford‟s breath.”
The potential rumble petered out as the visitors left the scene and drifted back toward
civilization. Louis and Jocelyn kept jabbering about what they would do with the material
they had gathered. They agreed that they had the means to damage Larry Longford‟s
reputation. Once the group reached the stadium Metro stop, Miriam found herself
breathing normally. She had to admit that Jocelyn had accomplished at least one miracle
tonight. She had driven away the deflated feeling that had dogged the women when they
exited the stadium. There was nothing like the fear of death for dispelling the blues.
Louis and Jocelyn stuck together as they boarded the train. It was past midnight, and the
subway was half full of remnants from the stadium crowd. The reporter rode with the
three women to the main transfer point at Metro Center, where they would go their
separate ways. Miriam and Cass would get off and catch a Maryland-bound train, while
Jocelyn would stay on and proceed to Virginia. The question was, which way would
Louis go? He and Jocelyn showed no signs of winding down their discussion, in which
they had beefed up their journalistic accomplishments and explored future ways of
combining their skills. Miriam was not surprised to see Louis keep his seat as she and
Cass disembarked. The loquacious pair paused barely long enough to wave goodbye.
“You think he‟ll follow her all the way to that commune she lives in?” asked Cass, as
they rode the escalator to the upper platform. Miriam admitted it looked that way. She
wondered how Heinz would react if he were home when Jo brought this guest in. Maybe
he wouldn‟t react at all. The way they lived, sharing a house with two other couples, was
hardly conducive to fidelity. Jo had hinted before that partner-swapping was a constant
Miriam and Cass boarded the northbound train. Cass would get off at Takoma Park, short
of the state line, and walk two blocks to her efficiency apartment. Miriam would proceed
to Silver Spring, where she would face a half-mile walk to her slightly larger apartment,
which she once had shared with her ex-husband. Both women professed to feel less
nervous than usual about a late-night walk in those neighborhoods. The throbbing pulse
of the city, which they had tapped into tonight, would conduct them to their respective

On Saturday afternoon, Miriam sat down before her new home computer, a present she
had bought herself to replace Jeff. She tried to record some thoughts about Friday night‟s
adventure. She meant to recapture the thrill, but soon found herself sweating over the
piece, trying too hard to invest meaning in it. She insisted on the political symbolism of
the Longford-Spencer controversy, which tended to squeeze the personalities out of it.
The result of her efforts was not an expose suitable for The Free Paper, but an essay that
only a stodgy professor could love.
While Miriam labored, she pictured Louis X. Bell dashing off a colorful article about the
incident and Jocelyn developing the illustrations. Their piece would feature direct quotes
from the subject, as a real news story shouldnot that Longford had said much that was
printable. Well, they deserved to make a splash. Miriam couldn‟t convert herself from
scholar to reporter quickly enough to compete with that pair.
Still, she returned to work on Monday morning in a relatively cheerful mood, determined
to treat the experience as a transforming one. If it had not given her a subject for an
expose, it had stirred up her inquisitive spirit. She had proven herself capable of ignoring
danger for the sake of curiosity, as a journalist must. Confronted by the piles of folders
that now seemed permanent fixtures, she conjured up a different attitude. These
represented not mere rejects, but potential tragic heroes.
She turned on her government-issue computer, located the form letter used for routine
rejections, and began cranking them out. This mindless work involved inserting different
names and addresses on what was basically the same letter, and printing them out to
make them look individualized. God, she thought, who are we kidding? Each one is still a
cold, impersonal snub. And the few variations we use only make more work for the
secretary without soothing the reject at all. She turned it into a creative exercise by
planning what she would say to these losers if they called. “I‟m sorry, but the Council is
run by lunkheads who don‟t know quality when they see it.” “I‟ve personally looked at
your file and I agree you deserve better. But I‟m just a lowly secretary, with no right to
express an opinion around here.” “If I had anything to do with it, you‟d be on your way to
London or Paris right nowand out of my hair.”
Get real, she chortled. If one of them calls, I‟ll be in deep shit for failing to get this batch
out last week. Any reject would take my head off before I had a chance to be polite. They
all try to shoot the messenger.
Miriam found herself overtaken by one of the conscientious fits that visited her at
intervals. She would grind out these letters at double speed to make up for Friday‟s
neglect. She would be unfailingly courteous to any scholar who called. She would not
stop to reminisce with Cass about Friday night, or try to impress the stock room guys
with it, until her work was done. She would not even take time to refill her coffee cup or
go to the bathroom until it was urgent. Both Renee and Mrs. Broadwater would notice her
industry, and praise her for it.
But her best intentions could not erase last week‟s sins. Some time around mid-morning,
Miriam heard Sally the Whisperer slip into Renee‟s office. For some reason, Sally
considered herself a friend of Renee‟s. In an office that maintained such rigid lines
between professionals and clericals, Miriam doubted such a friendship could thrive. Yet
she had to admit the two had traits in common: both were married to big shots around
town, lived in near-mansions, and dressed like fashion plates. Many of their
conversations seemed to revolve around clothes, a subject that left Miriam cold.
But at least that was a safe subject. As far as Miriam could determine, Sally had dropped
by to return a borrowed itema “money belt,” strung together with gold coins, which she
had worn to an anniversary dinner with her husband last Saturday night. After she
exclaimed over the effect the belt had made against her green velvet dress, she went on to
describe the elegant meal and the attentive service they had received. Miriam salivated at
the mention of the Palm Tree restaurant on Nineteenth Street, a place renowned for filet
mignon and lobster dinners, in which Sally‟s husband Frank held a partial interest. Sally
suggested that Renee plan a similar dinner for her anniversary two months from now. She
was brazen enough to suggest a double date between the two couples before that time.
Don‟t eavesdrop any more, Miriam ordered herself. What do you care if these people
party together every night? What‟s it got to do with you? She returned to her work, but
within seconds her survival instincts went on alert. As Sally‟s voice dropped, Miriam‟s
ears honed in like radar. She picked up enough phrases to be certain that Sally was
describing the nasty phone call she had endured late Friday afternoonone that would
have come to Miriam, had she not switched her line and “forgotten” to switch it back.
Gotta look alive, thought Miriam. When Renee comes out here to ask me about the phone
call not taken, I‟ll look up from my work, slap myself on the cheek and say, Oh my God,
how silly of me. I must have forgotten to retrieve my line after my trip to the bathroom. It
can happen when you‟re in a hurry to get out of here. Big plans for Friday evening, you
know. I guess you‟re amazed I have that much of a life. I‟m so sorry dear Sally got an
earful; it won‟t happen again.
A fair amount of bullshit, but Miriam thought she could dish it minus the sarcasm if she
tried. When she heard Sally leave, and Renee step out of her office, she exhorted herself
to appear industrious. Plead forgetfulness, distraction, the follies of youth, anything.
Renee is a reasonable woman most of the time; you can make her understand.
Then Miriam saw Renee‟s face, and quailed. It was not the face of reason but of
annoyance. She held in her manicured hand a yellow phone message, which she waved in
the air and then slammed onto Miriam‟s desk. “This is a call you apparently missed on
Friday. It‟s from an applicant in one of your reject piles. Sally had to get the list from
Mrs. Broadwater and give this woman the news. That was not her job; it was yours. So
you‟re gonna be the one to call her back and apologize for the late notification. Then I‟d
like you to finish your current batch and get them out of here no later than close of
business today, since they‟re all late.”
“Wait a minute,” exclaimed Miriam, but the explanations stuck in her throat. Renee had
turned on her heel and swept away with a flounce of her long corduroy dress, like an
arrogant model. Miriam‟s face flushed and her limbs trembled. She pounded the desk,
risking a couple of broken fingers. When this proved unsatisfying, she muttered “bitch”
toward Renee‟s door, which had closed.
Seeing no alternative, she picked up the message and spent several minutes fuming over
it. Never had she felt so trapped in this impossible terrain, with mountains of files and
minefields of paper at every turn. There was no escape except by working her way out.
And that‟s what I intended to do all along, she reflected, with or without that nasty
attitude from my boss. Too bad you‟ve made an enemy of me, bitch. I‟m only a day or
two late with your stupid letters, and you were late getting them to me in the first place.
I‟ll do your shitwork for you, since that‟s what I‟m paid for, but you‟ve gone too far.
Somewhere in this chaos there might be a time bomb ready to explode in your face. And I
won‟t lift a finger to diffuse it.
She fingered the message in her sweaty, aching hand, thinking maybe this is it. Without
further hesitation, she dialed the number of Pamela Whittle, Assistant Professor of
Political Science at the University of Maryland. Revved up with anger, Miriam hoped the
professor would be in. She felt capable of blasting the Council and all its dealings for the
benefit of a stranger.
“Yeah?” said a woman‟s voice.
“Is this Ms.I mean, Professor Whittle?” Her question produced an ominous silence, as
if she had violated some kind of telephone protocol. She hurried on: “This is Miriam
Cooper at the U. S. Peace Council. I was toldI was asked to call you toto extend our
apologies for not informing you sooner about the Council‟s decision on” Christ, she
couldn‟t remember which grant this woman had applied for. She should have at least
checked the file before she called. Holding the phone between her chin and shoulder, she
began to rifle through the files on her desk. But the professor‟s witchy cackle froze her.
“Well, isn‟t this amusing. Isn‟t this just ducky. Tell me, little girl, what kind of place is
this Council of yours? First they turn down one of the best candidates they‟re ever likely
to get. Then they take their sweet time telling me about it. Then, to top it off, they have a
child calling me to apologize. You should nominate your boss, whoever that idiot is, for
manager of the year.”
“That isn‟t quite fair. And I‟m not exactly a child, although I do apologize—for the part
that‟s my fault. I was supposed to get these letters out last week, but something personal
came up”
“Spare me your personal issues. The only issue I‟m interested in is the underlying
stupidity and cowardice of an agency that makes boneheaded decisions and then asks
someone like you to take the fall for them. Or maybe it‟s a lot worse than that. Maybe the
issue is underlying corruption.”
“What makes you think there‟s corruption?” Aroused, Miriam lowered her voice.
“You expect me to believe that a bureaucracy like yours hands out teaching and research
grants strictly on merit? That the most qualified scholars win those things?”
“Well, as far as I know, it‟sthat‟s the way” Miriam, appalled by her own little girl
voice, stumbled to a stop. But these inflammatory ideas could not be passed off without
comment. “If it isn‟t based on merit, what is it based on?”
“Why don‟t you tell me? You‟re the one who works there. Tell me some facts about the
person who got the grant that I applied for, the free trip to Florence, and I‟ll tell you
whether that person is more qualified than I am. One thing you don‟t have to tell me is
that it‟s a white male. That‟s the main qualification, apart from a few tokens probably
chosen at random.”
“Affirmative action is part of the process,” said Miriam. “At least it‟s supposed to be.”
“Yeah, right. You gonna tell me the name of your jackpot winner, or do I have to go
through all that Privacy Act shit to find out?”
“I‟d tell you if I knew,” said Miriam, “but II haven‟t got that sorted out yet. I have the
files of some selectees here, but they‟re not in order.”
“I suppose you‟d be afraid to tell me anyway. Can‟t risk annoying your bosses by
exposing their sacred selection process.”
“It isn‟t that I‟m afraid,” protested Miriam. “I mean, if there‟s corruption at the Council,
I‟d like to know about it too.”
“Oh, you would? That‟s fascinating.”
What had Miriam said? Had she offered to join forces with this woman in an
investigation? If so, there was no backing off now. “Listen,” she exclaimed, “I have to
get all these letters out really fast, both acceptances and rejections. As soon as I know
who‟s going to Florence, I could get back to you. Will that be okay?”
“That‟ll be a start,” said Ms. Whittle, “although I‟m even more interested in figuring out
how this person was selected. I‟d like a glimpse into the executive mindset at your
“Maybe I can find that out tooat least something about it.” This was a rash promise,
since Miriam had no real access to those executive minds. But she could not resist the
challenge thrown out by this raging rejectthe alliterative nickname seemed to stick.
“I‟ll be back in touch soon, and then we‟ll talk.”
“I‟ll be waiting.” The slamming of the phone seemed to resonate through the office;
Miriam trembled as if from an aftershock. Ms. Whittle wasn‟t exactly likable, but what
would be the point of liking her? Without exchanging a civil word with her, Miriam was
in a sweat of admiration. She doubted if the Peace program could handle such a strong
woman. Whittle was unsuited to the task of advancing the Administration‟s agenda
abroad, just as Miriam was unsuited to churning out paper like a machine for a
quasi-government agency.
What made a suitable grantee? Miriam eyed the two shorter stacks on her desk, the
fifteen or so files that represented the Council‟s selections for central and southern
Europe. She knew the basics of this process. The grunt work was done by ad hoc
committees of at least four respected academiciansoften past granteesthat were
convened periodically to rate candidates according to their academic qualifications. She
supposed these committees were fairly objective, but the final choices rested with the
Council managers.
As Miriam rifled through the files, a myriad of facts soon jumbled before her eyes:
university positions held, academic papers published, degrees earned. For comparison
purposes she returned to the reject stacks that contained around forty files, and managed
finally to put her hands on Pamela Whittle‟s folder. It seemed that she, too, had the
position, the publications, the degrees. What was it she lackedconservative
Miriam grew flustered at the inaccessibility of the selection process. She could find no
evidence of sexual discrimination, since the Council had taken its usual care to select a
handful of women. She would guess, from past observation, that there were one or two
African American selectees. Whatever other qualities distinguished these scholars were
too subtle for her to detect. How could she launch an investigation when she was not
privy to the private thoughts of the Council committee members or managers, nor even in
a position to eavesdrop on their meetings? She would need a promotion to get within
voice range of them.
She saw no alternative now but to get on with her work. She must print out the reject
letters with accompanying envelopes, and get them signed and sent out, before she could
take time to study the acceptances. If she didn‟t step lively she might get another
reprimand from Renee, or worse, a more official dressing down from Mrs. Broadwater.
She straightened her back and flexed her arms to rev up the mechanical motions needed
for repetitive labor.
One advantage to this kind of work was that it left the mind free to wander into orbit.
While Miriam gave every appearance of being immersed in the rejects, she conjured up a
host of international conspiracies that soon might engulf the grantees. She realized with a
chuckle that she was playing the old Covert War Council game. Oh, for those
wine-soaked lunches when Jocelyn, prodded by Miriam, had declared that she “knew”
the bulk of her Latin American grantees had been chosen for nefarious political purposes.
Some would merely use their university platforms to denounce those pesky liberation
movements that threatened the military governments. But others might be ferrying more
tangible forms of gunpowder into the third world. Since Miriam wasn‟t Jocelyn, she
would not accuse anyone of the slightest impropriety without evidence.
Once she began to move the grunt work, she regarded the acceptances, the two shorter
piles, with a less fevered eye. Only then did she notice something strangea scattering of
folders throughout those piles that were thinner than the rest. Was this some sort of
optical illusion? In her four years at the Council, nothing had struck her eye like this. Was
it a new phenomenon, or had she been blind to such irregularities before? She worked on
with a pounding heart that mocked ordinary activity. She felt as if she had glimpsed Poe‟s
purloined letter, the clue that eluded you at first because it was right under your nose.
She paused from time to time to refocus on the stacks, to make sure her eyes didn‟t
deceive her. No, it was a purposeful deception. She could tell by the way these funny
folders were stuck here and there as if to dilute their impact. The average harried
secretary might think nothing of them as she rushed through the piles. But when Miriam
eyed them, they made everything else look askew. The standard Peace Grant application
was a fairly thick document. She saw three or four files that must have made it through
the process without all the required paperwork.
At last, she thought, a real incentive to get my work done, other than just to stay
employed. I‟ll zip right through these rejects so I can get my hands on the mysterious thin
files. I might even pluck up the courage to ask some higher-up why we‟re sending
acceptance letters to semi-applicants. Or maybe I won‟t, since I‟m obviously not
supposed to notice what I‟m doing. I‟ll learn more by figuring it out myself—although
I‟d sure like to hear the official explanation.
She had plowed halfway through the rejects when Renee appeared over her shoulder.
That haughty, Parisian face looked contrite. “Miriam, I‟m sorry I snapped at you earlier.
It‟s just that I‟m under a lot of pressure right now. We need to get our work out faster.
But I can see you‟re working hard now.”
“Oh, yes, I am,” exclaimed Miriam like the peppiest of employees. “I‟m sorry for the
delay. I‟ll get these letters out as soon as I can.” As it was almost noon, she made the
biggest concession possible. “I‟ll even work through lunch to make sure it gets done
“I appreciate that,” said Renee with a smile that threw her secretary into confusion. She‟s
still a bitch to have snapped at me, Miriam thought, but I guess Old Prune Face is leaning
on her. I don‟t necessarily forgive her, but a friendly front is the best strategy.
“Renee,” she piped up as her boss prepared to retreat into her office, “I‟m curious about
something. I just noticed that some of these filesthese acceptancesaren‟t complete.”
To illustrate she pulled one of the thin folders out of its pile, creating a small avalanche.
She opened the file to find only the first page of the standard application. None of the
other requirements, such as the statement of purpose, the essay on personal goals, the
three letters of recommendation, were present. Nor was there any sign of preliminary
correspondence, indicating that this person had written or phoned for an application.
Miriam took in the vital statistics on the front page, and was startled to discover a mirror
image of Pamela Whittle: same approximate age, similar position, comparable degrees.
Only this woman, Faith Taylor, had gotten her doctorate and had taught for several years
at the University of Texas. So it had been a contest, perhaps, between mid-western and
eastern backgroundsno contest at all in this administration.
“You seem fascinated by that applicant. Why is that?”
Renee‟s question shook Miriam. Better not dwell on this file, she thought, at least while
anybody‟s watching.
“It‟s just that it looks so incomplete. And it‟s not the only one like that.” Miriam tried to
pull out another of the thin files, doing more damage to the stack. “I was just wondering
if maybe they were put in with the acceptances by mistake?”
Renee startled Miriam further with her laugh. “You‟re suggesting Mrs. Broadwater made
a mistake? Go ask her about it if you like. Personally, if she told me to send an
acceptance letter to Saddam Hussein, I would do it without stopping to notice that his
papers weren‟t in order.”
“Oh, so would I, of course. I‟m just saying it looksa little strange. I don‟t remember
seeing a one-page application before.” Miriam put on a wide-eyed look.
“You really never noticed that before? We have regular applicants to this program,
Miriam, and we have recruits. Most Peace grantees apply formally, but a few don‟t.”
“I guess I knew that, but I never thought about it before.” Miriam was embarrassed to
admit this oversight. Could she have been this blind for four years? Instead of focusing
on the aberrant files under her nose, she had occupied herself with matters both grandiose
and mundane that were beyond her control. One moment she half believed Jocelyn‟s
theories of fire-eating, war-mongering Peace grantees; the next she was embroiled in
petty office politics. No doubt that was what top management hoped for, a duped work
force to carry out its programs, missing the corruption either because it was too big to
imagine or too trivial to notice.
“What sort of people does the Council recruit?” Miriam hoped to pump her boss a little
more, but Renee‟s discomfort level was on the rise. She backed out of Miriam‟s cubicle
in confusion, as if she had awoken in a strange place.
“I can‟t say. That‟s not my area of expertise. You and I should just get back to work.”
Renee escaped into her office and shut the door, leaving Miriam to ponder. The basic
question remained: what types of scholars did the Council recruit, and how, and why?
Secondary questions sprang from this one. Did Mrs. Broadwater call all the shots where
these recruits were concerned? Or did Director Wrightman have some say in their
selection? If he did, why did Renee profess to have no power, when everyone around
here with half an eye knew that she was cozying up to the Director? And the way she had
spoken of the Deputy Director as if they were adversaries!
Why had Miriam ever thought this job boring? It was her own fault that she had failed to
apply any imagination to it. As her fingers typed names and addresses onto form letters,
her mind filled with questions that begged to be researched. She chugged along in the job
she was paid to do, while churning up enough scandal, she hoped, to make an
underground editor‟s eyes shine.


                 CHAPTER FOUR: The Interview From Hell
Miriam remained in high work mode all week. By toiling through lunch hours, she
knocked off a batch of reject letters on Monday and acceptances on Tuesday. Later in the
week, she took on a more challenging task. She and Renee had agreed months ago that
she would handle miscellaneous inquiries from the public to exercise her writing skills,
and perhaps enhance her professional status. This was an easy sacrifice for Renee, who
wasn‟t fond of writing.
Miriam tried to add a little flair to her replies whenever possible. Her creativity consisted
of varying the endings, or adding a personalized sentence or two that demonstrated her
regard for the correspondent as an individual. She had won the right to put her own
signature on the letters, since Renee either trusted her or didn‟t care to supervise this level
of correspondence. So far her small breakthrough had not enabled Miriam to burst out of
the Grade Seven straightjacket. When she had asked about promotion possibilities, the
personnel officer pointed to the phrase “answers routine correspondence” in her current
job description.
Routine, hell. That might be ninety-nine percent true, but now she contemplated a letter
that could blast routine to the skies. Was she mad to think of writing in a personal vein to
Pamela Whittle? Maybe, but she could be brave and impulsive on paper, while the phone
sometimes reduced her to stutters. The oppressive office atmosphere inspired this rash
literary act. To avoid detection she wrote by hand, shielding the paper:
“Dear Professor Whittle: This is a follow-up to our telephone conversation of August 30,
in which I confirmed that you would soon be receiving a routine rejection letter. During
our conversation, you inquired about the successful candidate for the overseas post for
which you applied.” Miriam feared this awkward sentence wouldn‟t do much to convince
the professor that she was no idiot. But she pushed on, too nervous to linger over this
chore. “I have had an opportunity to review the application of Faith Taylor, Assistant
Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas, who is the apparent winner”
Winner? That made it sound like a beauty contest or a lottery. Miriam scratched out the
word and substituted “successful applicant.” That was a more professional expression,
yet now this looked like a kindergarten project, with her childish handwriting and the blot
on the page. “It appears that the successful application is only one page long. That seems
to indicate a” She needed a strong word here that smacked of politics. “subversion
of the normal process, as you suggested on the telephone.”
Miriam paused to rest her hand, which was unaccustomed to fast writing with a pen, and
to still her heart. Renee‟s door remained shut, and no one else had invaded her cubicle all
week, as if her work mode was inviolable. If someone did enter, she was prepared to fake
writing a letter to a friend; this was not supposed to be done during work hours, yet it was
nothing compared to the ethical tangle of communicating unofficially with a Raging
“As a secretary, of course, I have no influence over this process. Nevertheless, the
situation raises questions in my mind that I would like to pursue for my own reasons. If
you believe it‟s warranted, I would encourage you to file a complaint, perhaps through
your Congressman, which would give it some weight. Meanwhile, I will be looking for
evidence of bias in other cases, and would be interested in communicating with you
(discreetly, of course) if either of us finds something” How could she describe what
she was looking for? What would impress Calvin Martinez? “that violates the spirit of
objectivity and fairness that the Council is supposed to uphold.”
She looked up to find Sally the Whisperer staring at her from the cubicle entrance. In her
distress, she dropped the pen on her unconcealed letter. How had the woman snuck up on
“II‟m drafting a letter to my lawyer.” Miriam reeled as she recalled how she had
bragged about getting her divorce without the assistance of an attorney.
“That‟s your business,” said Sally. “I just stopped by to ask you to cover my phone for
thirty minutes or so. I have to run downstairs for a meeting in the Director‟s office.”
“Sounds important,” gasped Miriam. “No problem.”
No harm done, she told herself. Her subversive little note read back like an essay. Why
couldn‟t she say to Ms. Whittle what she really meant? I want to blast these suckers as
much as you do, and that includes the suck-ups among my fellow secretaries. They reject
me and my true abilities every day. I want to know exactly what the Faith Taylors of this
world have got that you and I haven‟t got. I want to expose at least one injustice, if only
to the small but rabid audience of an underground press.
She signed off as if Ms. Whittle were one of her routine correspondents: “Best of luck in
all your endeavors. I hope to hear from you again soon. Sincerely, Miriam Cooper.” She
stuffed the letter into a Council envelope, slipped it into her desk beneath a pile of bills,
and pretended to ignore it for an hour. Would she be able to work up enough courage to
walk out at lunchtime and drop this letter, camouflaged by benign mail, into the nearest
When the time came, the bills went in but the letter did not. Her hand was stayed by a
case of the shakes. What was she doing, transmitting her intentions in writing to a woman
she knew nothing about, except that she was a hothead? How could Miriam rely on the
discretion of Pamela Whittle? Once the professor got hold of this information and began
to raise hell, it would be easy enough for the Council powers to guess at the source. If
Miriam got fired, she would have no story, not to mention no income.
On the other hand, she longed to cultivate Ms. Whittle and her razor tongue. What if she
consented to be the focal point of Miriam‟s story? She would provide a fount of outraged
tirades. Could Miriam persuade her to be discreet about her case until a fuller, grander
scandal emerged?
As confusion swirled through her, Miriam set off on one of her arduous walks. Several
times in recent weeks, her ambitious spirit had pulled her onto the rumbling, sweaty
streets at lunchtime. So far the exercise had proven as punishing in the early September
heat as it had been at the height of summer, with the same unsatisfying results. She found
little replenishment from panting in the shadows of buildings grander than her own while
the hour ticked away. Only yesterday she had returned, wrung out and dispirited, by way
of Eighteenth Street past the Kramerkeller. Visions of cold beers, glistening with
condensation, passed before her eyes like the glossy ads that establishment never would
be able to afford. She had banished temptation and returned to the office, barely under the
deadline. Cass, her thoughtful friend, had warned her that she could afford no lunchtime
shenanigans just now. It seemed that Mrs. Broadwater had begun sifting through the five
applications for the new Program Assistant post.
If she didn‟t get that job, she must make Old Prune Face sweat a little to explain why.
Miriam knew that her qualifications were the most impressive of the five. She was a
college graduate with honors, for God‟s sake. The others, she believed, were no better
than community college or business school graduates. There was one African American
candidate, who would look to benefit from affirmative action, but that wouldn‟t hold
much water with Mrs. B.
Miriam ought to feel confident, but the interview loomed before her as a terrifying
prospect because of her uneasiness with the Deputy Director. It‟s a weird chemistry, she
thought. That woman thinks I‟m an utter child in some ways, yet she seems suspicious of
my intellect. Would she be impressed if I told her I might go to graduate school in
journalism? Or would she then decide I‟m over-qualified, even dangerous?
The thought that she could be denied the promotion for reasons other than merit made
Miriam pound the pavement in frustration. She tried to restrain this premature anger, but
it threatened to overwhelm her like a fait accompli. She knew that she was not on Mrs.
B‟s short list; she had not sucked up enough. She must nail the interview, or she would
have no chance at all. The letter to Whittle throbbed in her purse, an insurance policy
against disappointment.
What was the big deal if she got fired for sending that letter? A return to academia looked
more attractive than an eternity stuck at Grade Seven. Maybe she could pursue the story
from the outside, painting herself as a true whistleblower. She might become the heroine
of her journalism classif her parents were willing to pay for the course. Naturally, they
would insist that she give up her apartment and move back home. God, no, there must be
a better way. She mustn‟t get fired, not yet. In fact, she would prefer to get the
promotion; then she probably would do nothing flaky, and her folks would be spared the
knowledge that their daughter was a malcontent.
She turned around before she reached Pennsylvania Avenue and returned to the office,
avoiding even a glance in the direction of her favorite hangout on Eighteenth Street. Soon
she would be blindsided by the interview. The Deputy Director‟s days were so hectic,
according to Cass, that the sessions had to be scheduled with little notice, whenever a
twenty-minute slot opened up. Of course that‟s bullshit, thought Miriam, just a way of
keeping us off-balance. She intended to be in high work mode when she received her
This happened a couple of Tuesdays later, after another truncated lunchtime walk. She
had hurried back from Farragut Square in the persistent September heat, and felt as
enervated as if she had taken the full tour. She was pouring down coffee to no good
effect, like heaping coals in a furnace, when her intercom sounded the alarm. How
ingenious of Old Prune Face to inform her with fifteen minutes left in her breakand
how fortunate that she was at her desk and not down at the Kramerkeller dousing her fire
with cold beer.
“You‟re on at one o‟clock, Miriam,” said Cass. “I just want to wish you the best of luck.”
“Thanks, I‟ll need it.”
“Now, keep your chin up.” Cass lowered her voice. “You‟re definitely the one I‟d pick.
All the girls are pretty good, but for my money you‟re the smartest. It‟s just your attitude
you need to work on.”
“Attitude?” Miriam‟s nerves jangled. “Since you brought it up, why‟s your attitude so
good these days? Have you decided you‟re gonna stay at the Council forever? No dream
job after all? No Redskins or Washington Post?”
“This might not be my dream job,” said Cass, lowering her voice further, “but I‟m
determined to give it my best shot until something better comes along.”
She‟s not exactly a towering intellect, thought Miriam, but I could learn from her. “Cass,
I don‟t deserve you. I‟ll be over there in fifteen minutes, ready to kick ass.”
“That‟s the spirit.”
Miriam kept drinking coffee until she could endure no more. Then she strolled as slowly
as she could toward the Deputy Director‟s suite, determined not to look over-eager. The
effort was a failure. Not only did she arrive three minutes early, but she was jittery from
the caffeine. Cass led her into Mrs. Broadwater‟s office, pointed her to a seat in front of
the desk, administered a discreet pat on the shoulder, and closed the office door on her
way out. Miriam struggled to keep her feet from doing a tap dance on the rug as she
waited for Mrs. B. to wrap up a phone conversation.
Minutes passed, while sweat dripped from her pores. This interview felt like a disaster
before it began. It couldn‟t begin, apparently, until the Deputy Director got herself a
one-thirty lunch date with someone who claimed to be otherwise engaged. She‟ll hate me
for overhearing this, thought Miriam. God, the way she crouches over the phone as if that
could keep me from understanding. This woman really takes me for a fool. No wonder
she expects me to overlook those one-page applications. There‟s my own paperwork on
the desk in front of her, impressive as hell. Yeah, right.
“We have plenty of business in my conference room, Daniel,” murmured the Deputy
Director into the phone. “I can‟t imagine what other business could be more urgent.”
She‟s talking to Director Wrightman, realized Miriam. Jesus, the things you overhear
while you‟re squirming in a chair, trying to act deaf. But it‟s too late, I got the gist. Does
she think I don‟t know the Director‟s first name? This other business of his must involve
Renee. Sounds like Mrs. B knows it too.
Miriam put on a poker face, hoping to look as oblivious as the Deputy Director expected
her to be. Would this conflict with the display of intelligence she had planned? Mrs. B.
hung up the phone with emphasis, having accomplished her purpose at the cost of some
dignity. As if for inspiration, she glanced at a picture of President Bailey that occupied a
corner of her desk. Then she turned her attention to Miriam, regarding her as if she were
a child dressed up in business clothes.
“Well, Miriam. Why do you think you deserve to be a Program Assistant?”
God, thought Miriam, that patronizing tone. What‟s the big deal about this stinking job?
You‟d think I‟d asked to change positions with a Program Officer, or the Deputy
“Well, I feel I‟ve worked really hard at my present job. I think I‟ve gotten out a lot of
work, especially lately.”
“Oh, really? What‟s so special about lately? Have you decided to become more
conscientious after four years?”
“No, I didn‟t just decide that.” Damn, why had she said “lately”? “I mean, I certainly feel
I‟ve grown up a lot in four years. But from day one I liked the Council and what it
doeswhat it‟s supposed to do. It‟s ideals and all are great.”
“That‟s all very nice, Miriam,” said the Deputy Director, “but it takes more than idealism
to earn a promotion. It takes real dedication to day-to-day tasks, even if they‟re not
“Honestly, I‟m not looking for excitement.” God, what a liar she was. “I‟m just looking
for advancement andI guess, a little respect.”
The Deputy Director regarded the secretary quizzically, as if she had demanded a lifetime
guarantee of security and happiness. That constricted mouth turned up at the corners with
amusement, while those eyes trained on Miriam, beady and cold. What was eating her?
The sexual frustration of a decade-long widow who regarded young women as her natural
“Frankly, Miriam, you haven‟t earned those things, not yet. I‟m not saying I don‟t think
you ever can. Why don‟t you resolve to work hard, and then maybe in a year or so we can
talk about the next promotion.”
In a year or so! Old Prune Face expected her to carry on with the same drudge work
through endless months, just for the privilege of repeating this exercise next year. She
wished she could be like Jocelyn, who would have jumped to her feet shouting, “No way,
lady. You can stuff that „wait till next year‟ crap. Promote me now or I walk.” No doubt
if she said that, Mrs. B would tell her to go ahead and walk. She might manage to say the
same thing in a roundabout way, with the same result. Since the Deputy Director held all
the cards, Miriam humbled herself.
“But Mrs. Broadwater, I don‟t know how I can work any harder than I have been” She
choked off the word “lately.” “Besides, I really think I‟m the most qualified candidate.
Do any of the others even have a college degree?”
“We‟re not here to talk about the others. That‟s not your concern. We‟re here to talk
about you.”
“Then you have to tell me,” said Miriam, “what I‟m doing wrong. Otherwise, how can I
correct it?”
Mrs. B leaned back and sighed. “Well, Miriam. I‟ve become aware of a couple of
occasions when you returned from lunch with wine on your breath.”
“Oh, but that was” Miriam stumbled and started again. “But I wasn‟t the only” It
was hopeless. The Deputy Director had caught the secretary in a misstep, and her position
was unassailable. Miriam must direct her outrage at someone else.
“Would you please tell me who told you that?”
“It doesn‟t matter.” Mrs. Broadwater stiffened with secrecy. “What matters is not letting
it happen again.”
“It won‟t. But I‟d still like to know who is spying on me and talking behind my back.”
“It‟s irrelevant, Miriam.” The cold tone set up a brick wall. “We‟re not going into that.”
“Oh, I suppose not. Of course, I already know who it is. Sally, right? And I also know
she‟s the one who‟s gonna get this promotion. She‟s got the most important
qualifications.” Miriam, in a frenzy, nearly blurted out Sally‟s main asset: that she was
married to a prominent businessman who owned some of the choicest real estate in town,
who had Redskins season tickets and heaven knew what other connections.
Mrs. B‟s beady eyes grew wide and her mouth flew open as she lurched forward in her
high-backed chair. “Miriam, I‟d advise you to take a deep breath and get control of
yourself. It‟s not your place to speculate about personnel decisions.”
Miriam was dumbstruck with horror. Never had she come so close to unloading her
grievances. Had the spirit of Jocelyn infused her after all? She stilled her feet on the
carpet and clutched the arms of her chair.
“Mrs. Broadwater, I‟m sorry if I overstepped. I don‟t know what got into me. It must be
too much caffeine talking.”
“Okay.” The Deputy Director sat back, shaking her head and chuckling slightly. “I‟ll
assume you‟re a bit on edge today.” Miriam found it convenient, for the moment, to be
regarded as a petulant child. She could get away with a temper tantrum or two, as long as
she apologized.
Now the interviewer began to glance at her watch, although Miriam was sure her twenty
minutes were not up. Hold on, Prune Face, she wanted to say; not so fast. I gotta salvage
something from this debacle. I‟ll be loyal, subservient, whatever bullshit you want. “I
was thinking maybe it would help me if I understood a little better what the problem is
with my work. Can you point to a particular thing?”
The Deputy Director had to pause and reflect, to her evident annoyance. It‟ll always be
like this between us, thought Miriam. Right now she wants to be alone to prepare for her
date with the Director. Instead she‟s forced to collect her thoughts about me, which bores
her utterly.
“Well, Miriam. It‟s not one particular thing. It‟s more a matter of bringing real energy to
your job. I just don‟t see the dynamism I‟d like to see in the Western European office,
particularly since that‟s our most popular program. It needs a Program Officer and a
secretary working together in an aggressive partnership.”
“Aggressive partnership?” repeated Miriam. “Renee and me? What does that mean?
Should we go out and recruit together?”
God, she had done it again. She had shocked the woman twice in one interview, had
made her practically jump out of her seat. The word “recruit” reverberated.
“II didn‟t mean recruit, exactly. I just meant” Now she had compounded the
problem by repeating the wordand Mrs. B‟s eyes had bugged out with unholy power.
Only upper management was supposed to know that candidates could be acquired outside
the normal process. To suggest that lesser employees might recruit was madness. To
betray any knowledge of it was just as bad. Miriam reassumed the safe, befuddled
expression that typically brought forth a patronizing lecture.
“Let‟s not get silly, Miriam. When I say aggressive partnership, I simply mean that every
Program Officer and his or her secretary should form a team. The key word is teamwork.
The secretary should anticipate the Program Officer‟s needs at all times. Both of you
should know the status of each applicant in case he or she calls, or in case I need to know.
Teamwork also means protecting your supervisor from nuisance calls. Most importantly,
it means being available to her whenever she needs you. In that sense, I don‟t get the
impression that you and Renee are a team, even after four years.”
“But that‟s not fair.” Miriam‟s petulant voice returned. “It‟s not totally my fault if we‟re
not a team. It takes two, doesn‟t it? And Reneewell, a lot of the time she‟s unavailable
to me.”
“What do you mean, unavailable?” The Deputy Director, who had risen partway from her
chair to terminate the interview, now froze.
Mrs. B‟s listening to me, thought Miriam. What a rare opportunity. “Well, some days I
only get to talk to her once or twice in passing, if that. She spends a lot of time on her
private line with her door closed, or away at meetings or whatever. I may get e-mail
instructions from her, but that‟s not real communication.”
“It certainly is not,” snapped Mrs. B. “That‟s a far cry from the teamwork I‟m talking
about. You‟ll have to do much better than that.”
“Doesn‟t Renee have to do better too?” ventured Miriam. “This sure isn‟t the way I want
to work.”
“Listen, Miriam. This is how I expect you to work. You need to know exactly what your
supervisor is doing during working hours. If I ask you at any time where Renee is, I
expect you to be able to tell meand if you don‟t know, you must find out. I don‟t care if
you have to buzz her on the intercom when her door is closed, or check downstairs, or
whatever. Don‟t be squeamish about it.”
“I think I understand,” said Miriam. What she understood was: Old Prune Face wants me
to spy on Renee. To be a spy in my part of the office. Another flammable word, whether
verb or nounbut this time I won‟t say it out loud.
“I hope you do understand, Miriam. All I‟m asking for is basic communication between
the two of you, like Cass and I have. We keep each other informed in a professional
manner. Now, I really do have an urgent appointment. I want you to go back to your
desk, work hard, and think about our discussion. Please shut the door on your way out.
And ask Cass to send Director Wrightman into my conference room as soon as he
Miriam left the Deputy Director‟s inner office, shutting the door a little harder than she
intended, which unnerved her further. Cass stared as she stumbled to a stop and tried to
gather her thoughts.
“Heavens, Miriam. You look as if you‟ve been through the mill. What happened in
Miriam shook her head in confusion. “I‟m not sure what happened. All I can tell you is, I
didn‟t get the job, and Mrs. B is paranoid. Oh, and I was supposed to tell you something
about directing Director Wrightman”
“Yes, I know. She always prefers meeting him in her conference room. It‟s more
comfortable than her office, I guess. Go on, tell me what happened.”
“Lots of things happened. For example, she told me that Renee and I should learn to
communicate the way you and she do. That almost made me laugh in her face. She thinks
she knows you inside and out. Hell, she thinks she owns you. I had half a mind to tell her
about your plans to leave.”
“Oh, Miriam, you didn‟t say anything like that, did you? I want to tell her myself, in my
own good time.”
“When will that be, Cass? You‟ve got me wondering if she isn‟t right. She doesn‟t think
you‟d ever dream of leaving her. But don‟t worry; I didn‟t say a word about you. I hardly
had a chance to say anything, with all her scintillating ideas pouring out. What else was
there? Oh, she wants me to spy on Renee. And she has Sally the Whisperer spying on
“Miriam, lower your voice.” Cass looked around, but no one seemed to be lurking within
earshot. “I really think you‟re losing it. Why don‟t you go back to your desk, have a cup
of coffee and try to calm down?”
“More coffee? I don‟t think so. What I need is a stiff drink.”
“Good idea. Why don‟t we both mosey down to the Kramerkeller after work? I know it‟s
not Friday, but this is a special case. We can talk the whole thing out.”
Miriam hesitated. Cass was being a good friend as always, but that kind face and those
guileless eyes struck her as inadequate to the situation. Besides, Miriam hesitated to talk
things out with the woman who supposedly formed a perfect team with Mrs. B. She
regarded her friend with growing alarm, as the lethal effects of that partnership became
plainer. Oh, Cass, she implored silently, don‟t you see what‟s happening? As long as Old
Prune Face controls your body and mind from nine to six, she‟ll think she controls your
soul. Christ, I‟ll bet she keeps track of how many times you go to the bathroom. If this
teamwork of yours gets any more effective, you‟ll be twins. Already you‟re taking on her
pear shape; another year and you‟ll have her beady eyes too. Or am I hallucinating?
“The time for talk is past.” Miriam tried to jar Cass. “As long as we talk and don‟t act,
we‟re living on pipe dreams. I say we should try to be more like Jocelyn. Now, there‟s a
woman of action.”
“Jocelyn will probably be on welfare before the year is out.”
“Well, if she is,” said Miriam, “it‟ll be because she pursued her dream, instead of some
stuffy career.” Images of that on-the-edge world that Jocelyn inhabited, with its nightly
headache-inducing music and liquor-centered meals, filled Miriam‟s head.
“God, I think I‟m gonna be sick.” It was no joke. Her ongoing sweatiness and shakiness
now were accompanied by waves of nausea.
“Oh, dear. You really need to go back to your desk and put your head down for a few
minutes. I‟m sure it‟ll pass.”
Miriam shook her head, making herself dizzy. “Listen, put me down for sick leave this
afternoon. If Mrs. B or Renee asks, tell them I was under the weather.”
“Are you really going home?” Cass sounded suspicious.
“Yes. No. Well, eventually. I think I‟ll run an errand or two first. But believe me, I really
feel sick.”
“Let me walk you to the subway,” said Cass. “I‟ll get somebody to answer my phone for
a few minutes.”
But Miriam couldn‟t wait. She left the Deputy Director‟s suite on the run, with a
backward wave at Cass, and nearly ran into Director Wrightman on his way in. Even
under duress, she couldn‟t fail to appreciate the dignified good looks of this middle-aged
man, with his decent hairline and well-fitted three-piece suit. She flashed a smile,
expecting the usual slight acknowledgement in return.
Instead, the hunted look on his face sent a wild fantasy coursing through her brain: Oh,
Daniel, run away with me. I could take you to a place where Mrs. B has no power, where
you would shed those tight clothes and laugh like a crazed teenager. You could meet
Renee therehell, you could have her under a table. No one at the Kramerkeller would
raise an eyebrow. But the Director lowered his head and continued into the trap, while
Miriam proceeded in the opposite direction.
She would take the long walk that she had denied herself for the past several days while
she awaited her interview. This would clear her head, steady her trembling limbs, and
give her time and space to contemplate the stunning act that lay within her power. She set
off on her usual route down Connecticut Avenue, past the late lunchers and loungers
around Farragut Square. She intended to proceed to Pennsylvania Avenue, but the spirit
of Jocelyn enveloped her like a whirlwind and turned her a quarter of the way around
until she faced Eighteenth Street. She heard a whisper: if you contemplate, you won‟t act.
The Kramerkeller cast its eerie daytime shadow across her path. Even at this hour, her
favorite club would vibrate with parties past and yet to come. Besides, what better cure
for confusion during a hot walk than cold beer? She pounded up the Stairway to Heaven,
past the photographs of aspiring bands. She burst into the main room to find the
lunchtime crowd non-existent. Well, good, she‟d have some privacy. Heinz was alone
behind the bar, wiping it down. He regarded her with a sullen expression, as if he
distrusted anybody who would patronize his establishment at this hour. Then a flicker of
recognition appeared.
“Oh, hi. If you wanted to see Jocelyn, she went home. Says she‟s ill or something.”
“I‟m sorry to hear that.” Miriam didn‟t care much. Judging by Heinz‟s dour expression,
Jo might be faking. Better not to mess with that situation. Besides, it was the spirit of
Jocelyn she needed to tap; the actual woman might prove a distraction. “Actually, I was
hoping to use your phone. It‟s kind of urgent.”
“Sure. You can go into my office. But let me get you a beer first. You look like you could
use it.”
“I could,” said Miriam. “I‟m perishing of thirst.” Uneven blasts from an air conditioner
socked her in the face. She was alternately hot and cold, shaking and calm. Heinz lifted a
partition in the bar for her to pass through, and pointed to a door in the wall behind him.
This entrance was flanked on both sides by rows of shelves holding bottles in all shapes
and varieties. She gaped at this collection as if she were a minor about to be carded. So
much to sample in life, so little time.
She entered the sanctuary which she never had glimpsed before, the office-bedroom
where Heinz and Jocelyn sometimes spent the night when they needed a break from
communal living in Fairfax. She averted her eyes from the unmade bed as she positioned
herself, shivering and sweating, in a folding chair beside the phone. While she waited for
her refreshment, she removed from her purse the letter she had written to Pamela Whittle
and failed to send. She read through it, rehearsing as if from a script. Heinz handed her a
glass of beer, then left and shut the door behind him. After bracing herself with a swig,
she picked up the receiver and punched in the number she had memorized. Be in,
Professor, she begged silently. I don‟t think I can go through this again.
“Yeah?” Whittle sounded as if her mouth were full. She must have stopped by her office
for a late lunch. Maybe this was a daily habit, a window of opportunity.
“Oh, hi, Professor Whittle, this is Miriam Cooper. You know, from the Peace Council?
We spoke several days ago.”
“Oh, yeah.” She swallowed noisily. “The little secretarial subversive. I received a
charming rejection letter, like you said I would.”
“Yes, well, I‟m sorry about that.”
“I don‟t really consider it your fault. I‟m not one to shoot the messenger. What‟s up?”
“Well, it‟s just thatI‟ve been thinking about your situation, and” This was going
badly. The professor would have no time for aimless rambling, so Miriam referred to the
letter. Unable to extract the theme she needed, she began to read the piece aloud, more or
less word for word.
“Stop a minute. Gimme that name again, please.”
“Faith Taylor, of the University of Texas.” Miriam also supplied the office address of the
successful applicant.
“Thanks so much. I might look the lady up, just to find out what makes her so special. Go
Miriam resumed reading in a shaky voice, placing emphasis on the word “secretly.”
Whittle laughed at her fear. “Don‟t worry. I won‟t tell anybody who my source is.”
“It‟s just thatI‟m hoping to build a file of evidence like this, and it‟s best to keep it
secret for the time being.”
“Whoa, sounds serious. What kinds of dirt are you trying to dig up?”
“Well, I was thinkingmaybe there‟s some sort of political litmus test for these special
“You mean they‟re allRepublicans?” The exaggerated horror in Whittle‟s voice set
Miriam reeling.
“I know that doesn‟t sound like a crime. But they‟re not supposed to be chosenI mean,
these grants are supposed to be non-political.”
“Non-political. What a joke. We both know there‟s no such thing. That‟s not a scandal,
dearie, that‟s life.”
“But it‟s not right.” Miriam struggled to maintain her cool, but her voice had risen in a
near-whine. To regulate it, she took a swig of beer.
“Listen, I couldn‟t care less if Faith Taylor is a Republican. That‟s her privilege as a
citizen. And that hardly constitutes a scandal. Unless”
“Unless?” Miriam spit beer in her eagerness.
“Unless she turns out to be a major fundraiser for the party. Or maybe she‟s a contributor
to some slush fund that your bosses control. It‟s big bucks we‟re looking for, dearie.”
“Oh, I get it.” Miriam‟s voice steadied, as her confusion lifted. “Follow the Money. I‟ve
heard that somewhere before.”
“That‟s the ticket. Now, let‟s you and I make a deal. I‟ll get the political lowdown on
Faith Taylor, in case she has any interesting connections. Meanwhile, you try to find out
if any money changed hands during her application process. How‟s that sound?”
“Great, butthe problem is, I‟m not the one who opens the mail for our main bosses. If a
check or something arrived for one of them, I wouldn‟t see it.”
“Oh, you‟re saying you‟re not the main secretary? My, what a dilemma. Sounds like you
might have to bribe the right person to give you the dope.”
Miriam thought this investigation might turn out to be fun. She would lure Cass to the
club Friday night and ply her with that cheap wine that could be kept flowing for hours.
Amid the chaos that tended to build through a Kramerkeller evening, she would explore
the intricacies of Mrs. B‟s mail. Could she get past Cass‟s integrity about her job, and
make her reveal something fishy? Well, she could try all night. “I think I can do that,” she
told the professor.
“Good. Then I trust I‟ll be talking to you again.” Whittle, not one for the formalities of
hello and goodbye, slammed the phone down.
Miriam rose, stuffed her script back into her purse, picked up her beer and returned to the
main room where Heinz was straightening tables and chairs. She felt suffused with a
sense of accomplishment, and a need to stop and think about just what she had
accomplished. Heinz motioned her to a booth and pointed to her half-full glass. She
nodded, and he returned to the bar to get her another beer while she polished off the first.
Ah, this was the life: an interval of leisure in the middle of a weekday to contemplate
blowing up her life.
Heinz‟s grim face intervened again as he brought complimentary pretzels with her beer.
He was being attentive despite his bad mood. Miriam suspected he needed a sympathetic
ear. “I‟m sorry to hear Jocelyn‟s under the weather. Hope it‟s not too serious.”
Heinz‟s face reddened and his eyes smoldered as if he had been insulted. “Oh, no, I‟m
sure it‟s nothing serious. Just the usual nausea, sore breasts, going to the bathroom every
five minutes. Oh, and her period‟s late. Maybe you can tell me what that means.”
“Oh, God,” said Miriam, “not again.” Heinz scowled in acknowledgement of another
mess, probably not of his making. Gossip had it that he had tried to take responsibility at
least one time when he was not the leading suspect. She wondered if he had paid for the
abortion last year; more likely, Jocelyn‟s parents had. Either way, she considered Heinz a
prince to have put up with that episode, not to mention Jo‟s incessant whining about the
child she had been forced to give up for adoption the year before.
Miriam performed the calculations in her head. She figured it had been two and a half
weeks since that wild time at Boxley Stadium. That was the night Jo had met the reporter
Louis Bell and had begun collaborating with him on an article for The Free Paper. But
what about that drunken musician in the stands that Jo had fought with, then offered to
manage? That made three obvious possibilities. She stole a glance at Heinz‟s flushed
face. “Maybe you‟re it this time.”
Heinz laughed mirthlessly as he retreated to the bar. “Who can say? Women are sluts.”
“Hey, c‟mon,” exclaimed Miriam, “they‟re not all sluts. Just because I‟m Jocelyn‟s friend
doesn‟t mean I‟m one. And just because I believe in abortion rights doesn‟t mean I
approve of self-destructive behavior.”
“Okay,” said Heinz with a shrug, “so you‟re not a slut.”
But Miriam insisted: “You know, much as I love Jocelyn, I hate the way she misuses her
body. I mean, all these pregnancies she gets rid of if they don‟t achieve her purpose. I
know I wouldn‟t use a man like that.” Was this true? She had thought once or twice about
reviving her marriage to Jeff with an “accident.” Certainly she had trumped up her
symptoms when she was a day or two late. She would have saddled Jeff with a burden he
obviously didn‟t want. Was she any more virtuous than Jocelyn simply because her
“pregnancies” hadn‟t materialized?
Miriam shook her head to dislodge these useless reminiscences and took a healthy swig.
Gotta treat Jeff as a closed chapter, she resolved. I won‟t even think about those clothes
he still has in my apartment that he must‟ve forgotten about. Had to lie to the judge about
that, or it might‟ve messed up our speedy no-fault divorce. There‟s enough cooking in my
life right now to obliterate the past. Besides, was it my fault if I didn‟t thrill him? He
hardly set me atwitter either.
She lifted her glass in an anti-toast: good riddance to Jeff. Excitement would be her new
drumbeat, beginning now at this spot where all the currents of her life might converge.
She steered her mind to Friday night, three nights from now. She and Cass would get here
by six and have some food to bolster themselves for semi-serious drinking. If Jocelyn
were here, they would ask her to sit down with them and describe her symptoms. Once
they established an atmosphere of confession, Miriam would get Cass to open up about
Mrs. B‟s mail. In time, as the night grew wilder and raucous music replaced normal
conversation, inhibitions would loosen further. Cass would agree to search her boss‟s
mail for mysterious checks; Jo would divulge the father of her alleged baby; Miriam
would keep her eye out for Calvin Martinez.
She weighed the possibility that Jeff might show up with his new wife sometime when
she was here. Would she run from them? No, she would go about her business as if they
were invisible. What did she care if her ex saw her dateless and trying to seduce Calvin
Martinez? Not that that was her intention; she merely wanted to discuss a possible story
with the editor. Jeff probably wouldn‟t ever come by if he thought she was here, unless
he wanted to show off his Celia. What did she look like? Last time they talked, Jeff had
made no claims concerning his wife‟s beauty, but did make her out to be a high-powered
government official. The lovebirds had met at Jeff‟s office in the National Archives,
where he had assisted her with some research. Who could say how many women he met
that way?
God, enough of Jeff already. She must figure out how and when she might meet
Martinez. She signaled Heinz again, and he brought more pretzels. “Oh, thanks. Listen,
do you know if Calvin Martinez is coming in Friday night? It must be almost time for his
September issue.”
“Yeah, I‟m expecting him.”
“Oh, great,” said Miriam. “This is the big issue we‟ve been waiting for, isn‟t it? The one
with Jocelyn‟s photographs of Larry Longford and Louis Bell‟s article?”
“Yeah, it‟s the big one, all right. The one that‟ll make our girl famous all over town, if
she‟s not already.” Heinz slapped a towel over his shoulder and moved off.
Whoops, she thought: that might have been a tad insensitive. But I have to know what‟s
coming down Friday night; it could be the right time to connect with Calvin. Only how
will I get him to notice me, with fifty other admirers making moves on him?
She had observed this phenomenon twice before. Traditionally, on a Friday night toward
the end of the month, Calvin and his assistants commandeered several tables on the far
side of this room opposite the bandstand, and set up three or four stacks of their tabloid.
The issues varied from four to twelve pages, depending on the amount of funding the
editor had been able to scare up. Only a few advertisers ever touched the rag, but Calvin,
with his immigrant‟s perseverance, managed to put out a viable publication every month.
He gave them away as rapidly as he could, pouring his current themes into every willing
ear. Some shorter issues were taken up almost entirely by his semi-regular column, The
Whistleblower. When wound up, the editor let loose with conspiracy theories from a
left-wing perspective. His main targets were his two ex-employers: the Redskins and the
Federal government. From time to time, Calvin hooked up with freelance journalists who
provided genuine investigative reporting and revealing photographs. Miriam foresaw that
the upcoming issue would make the biggest waves in the rag‟s history.
It was something to see, the way Calvin‟s admirers converged on him from all directions.
Many were football fans eager to rehash his once promising career as the Redskins‟
placekicker. They brought footballs and old programs for him to sign, chastised him for
sacrificing his career to union activism, and urged a comeback. Potential groupies
swarmed around him, admiring that dark, burly look he had maintained since his glory
days. Disaffected government employees poured their tales of woe into his ears. Aspiring
reporters floated story ideas for his consideration and offered to dig up all kinds of dirt.
Miriam had seen more than one blowzy woman or hyperkinetic man hand him a
manuscript and hover over him until he had read it.
Could she do something like that? Hell, yes, once she armed herself with a manuscript of
her own. Suddenly Miriam felt quite tipsy but amazingly awake. She figured her
humiliation with Mrs. B had spurred her to act. Since that horrible interview, she had
accomplished wonders. She had lit Whittle like a firecracker and taken on male
chauvinist Heinz. She emptied her glass and sat it down with authority.
“Coffee, please,” she ordered when Heinz made his next pass-by. Time to start
organizing her thoughts, to shape the story. The lead would be all-important, since the
competition for Calvin‟s attention would be fierce. “A secretary at the agency that awards
United States Peace Grants has discovered that those awards, in some cases, are
exchanged for money or political favors.” Godawful, she thought. Gotta find a stronger
punch than that. Her original plan, to lock eyes with him across a crowded room and
captivate him with her girlish charms, made her chuckle. Had she been that naive two
hours ago?
As Heinz returned with her coffee and the check, she burst out, “Listen, Heinz. Did it
ever occur to you that we‟re both in the same boat—I mean, frustrated in love?”
Judging by Heinz‟s expression, he had not pondered their common plight and didn‟t care
to. But Miriam persisted: “My point is, we don‟t have to be victims. We can both use
aa frustrating situation as an incentive to do great things. For instance, right now
Calvin Martinez has no idea I exist. But if I write something spectacular enough to
impress him, he‟ll notice me in no uncertain terms. The same with you and Jocelyn.
You‟ve got to do something to open her eyes. You can‟t do that by hiding behind that
She lurched toward him, causing him to step back in alarm. “Listen, the next time your
old band plays here, the band that fired you, you just climb up on that bandstand and take
back your place behind the drums. I don‟t care if you have to pitch the new drummer off
the stage. Dammit, that‟s really your band, and this is your club, and they have no
business telling you you‟re not good enough to play.”
After Miriam had demolished Heinz‟s defenses, she suffered a qualm as she watched him
clamp his jaw and swallow several times. If he replied at all, he would tell her to mind
her own business. She had spoken her mind for once in her life, and what had it
Then his eyes opened wide and acquired a spark. He straightened up, pulled the towel off
his shoulder and brandished it like a bullfighter. “You know something, dear? You‟re
absolutely right. I‟ve been on the sidelines too long, watching musicians who I helped
make what they are today. If you come in Friday night, you might just see me up there,
reclaiming my ground.” He snapped the towel toward the empty bandstand.
“That‟s wonderful,” said Miriam. “I can‟t wait.” She picked up the check, but Heinz
snatched it from her; the beer and coffee, he declared, were on the house. Miriam got up
and stumbled down the Stairway to Heaven, gasping at her clumsiness.
When she exited the club, she blinked as if Eighteenth Street were unfamiliar. She turned
away from her destination, the Farragut Square subway stop, and found herself headed
toward Seventeenth Street. She didn‟t mind the detour; this slightly disoriented walk
might prove more productive than her customary treks past the White House and ICA
headquarters. Previously, all she had done on those occasions was gaze at the formidable
structures and conjure up images of high-level wrongdoing. Now she almost had her
hands around a scandal. Further, she had a thick head, nervous energy and a full bladder
to prove that she had lived it up today.
She turned and hurried back toward Farragut Square, spurred by her bladder. No way, she
thought, am I gonna make it home. On Nineteenth Street she approached the elegant
Palm Tree Restaurant, the newest gathering place for local celebrities. Desperation drove
her into the lobby and past a few well-dressed patrons. She was too distracted to decide
whether she recognized them.
“Do you have a reservation?” asked the hostess. Miriam stated her business, and the
young woman told her, “Our rest rooms are for patrons only.” But Miriam stared her
down until she relented, and pointed out the ladies‟ room in a hallway to her left. “Just
this once. Don‟t make a habit of it.” Miriam took several minutes to relieve herself and
seethe with humiliation. The woman had judged her by her workaday skirt and blouse,
admittedly wrinkled by now, and her unsteady gait from drinking in a lesser
establishment. When Miriam left, she threw the woman a hostile look and vowed to
return someday as a patron.
She went home to her apartment, where she settled into bed to drink more coffee and
study back issues of The Free Paper. She was interrupted by a phone call from Cass, who
had been alarmed by her condition when she left the office. Miriam reassured her friend
that she was more than all right. They made a date for Friday night at the Kramerkeller
and anticipated a riotous time. Miriam reminded Cass that the Free Paper issue featuring
Jocelyn‟s debut as a photojournalist was due out that night.
“Oh, yeah, that‟s right. But you know I don‟t approve of her publishing those
embarrassing pictures of Larry Longford. And I‟m sure what‟s-his-name‟s article will be
pretty mean too.”
“His name‟s Louis X. Bell, and they didn‟t set out to humiliate Larry,” said Miriam
unconvincingly. “They‟re just showing a side of him the public ought to know about.”
“But it‟s bound to be one-sided. I‟ll bet they‟ll never even mention Larry‟s friendship
with those ghetto kids who guard his car. Those two are just out to get him, and I think
it‟s unfair.”
“Well, give it a chance,” said Miriam. “If you still think it‟s unfair once you‟ve read the
paper, write a letter to the editor.”
“I‟m no writer. That‟s your department.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn‟t be satisfied to write a letter in this case. That‟s one editor I‟d like
to meet.”
Cass giggled. “Now I‟m hearing your heavy breathing over the phone. But I honestly
don‟t know what you see in that Martinez guy. I mean, sure he‟s cute, but he‟s also kind
of crazy, from what I‟ve heard.”
“If you think he‟s crazy, I‟d say you have a broad definition of insanity.” Miriam
couldn‟t restrain her indignation, although Cass had expressed the view of the city at
“Well, what do you call a guy who throws over two great careers, which could have made
him rich and respectable, so he can live like a pauper and put out a scandal sheet?”
“I‟d call that a crusader,” said Miriam, proud of her obsession.
“It‟s not only crazy, it‟s disloyal,” continued Cass. “What right does he have to humiliate
an old teammate in his paper?”
“A perfect right, if Larry acts like an idiot.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I think Larry has a perfect right to storm into that club Friday night and
punch Calvin right in the nose.”
The women collapsed in giggles at this prospect. They envisioned their two idols mixing
it up at the Kramerkeller. They would wrestle each other to a standstill, then drop to the
floor and roll around, upsetting tables and chairs and drinks while the band played on.
Who would win? It was hard to say. Both men were around six feet two, with muscular
arms and barreled chests.
The scenario was unrealistic, both women realized. “Longford‟s not gonna get into any
fights in public right now,” said Miriam. “Not when against all odds, he‟s the starting
quarterback and the Redskins have won their first three games. Even he isn‟t dumb
enough to blow that. I‟ll bet that‟s part of the deal he made with the owner, to mind his
P‟s and Q‟s off the field this season. Otherwise Pete Spencer would be starting, since we
all know he really beat out Larry in pre-season.”
Cass declined to resume that battle, except to say, “Larry wouldn‟t be caught dead at a
place like the Kramerkeller anyway. He has more elegant tasteslike the Palm Tree.
That‟s where he met his fiancée, you know. She‟s a cocktail waitress there. I‟m sure
that‟s where they still hang out. Maybe we could afford to go there some Friday night
ourselves, if we skipped lunches for about a month before.”
“Not this Friday night,” said Miriam. She did not bring up the misadventure she had
suffered at that place this afternoon. “The Kramerkeller is the hot spot right now. Trust
After the women hung up, Miriam resumed her study of the subjects, writing styles and
viewpoints to be found in The Free Paper. The articles soon jumbled in her mind, while
Calvin‟s personality surged to the forefront. She lingered on his premier issue, in which
he had summarized his life history and described the stages that had brought him to this
strange new career as a muckraker. As she read, Miriam conjured up a fantasy Calvin
who lay in bed beside her, probing her in sensitive places as he poured his story into her


                      CHAPTER FIVE: Recruited as a Spy

“What‟s the crazy Mexican doing with a printing press in a homeless shelter? Inquiring
minds want to know.” With this announcement, Calvin Martinez had shocked and
fascinated the fans who still cared about him, and confirmed the darkest suspicions of
everyone else. “Well, it‟s a long story, and you sports fans and political junkies know a
lot of it already, having followed it in the so-called legitimate press. It‟s been a Horatio
Alger success story, followed by a free fall.
“I‟ve set up shop in the Mitch Snyder Center near Capitol Hill, with two female
assistants, one of whom is the mother of my infant son.” This item never failed to startle
Miriam, as if she were reading it for the first time. Two years after that premier issue, he
had discarded his homelessness, but she had yet to think of him in terms of fatherhood;
still, it added spice to the stew.
“I‟m here to take stock as I never have before. Ever since childhood, I‟ve been trying to
rise above my roots, but they keep pulling me back down. So, to prepare for this new
career, I‟m spending time with the downtrodden, who come in all varieties. There are the
drug addicts and the mentally ill, and then there are the unfortunatesunemployed folks
in a city that headquarters the largest employer in the nation. I‟ve met people who‟ve
been downsized or can‟t make a salary that justifies working; who‟ve been turned away
at the door because of their un-businesslike demeanor or told not to even bother
knocking. We‟re being manhandled by this monster, our government. The creature claims
to nurture us all, but instead feeds us selectively, like the cruelest kind of mother. Or
worse, an evil octopus that squeezes the life out of us.”
Ah, the octopus metaphor. Miriam pictured hundreds of eely tentacles branching out from
the militaristic White House. They groped their way into every suite, office and cubicle in
the city, choking off dissent and innovation. No doubt one of those offshoots threatened
to invade the Peace program and spew its poison, transforming it into the Covert War
Council. Miriam fantasized grabbing hold of the appendage and tugging so hard that the
President himself felt a pang in his short hairs.
When she heard Renee‟s door open, she thrust the paper into her desk drawer. She need
not have worried about being caught with it, since her supervisor barely glanced at her.
Renee wore a corduroy brown dress set off by the gold money belt that she kept
borrowing from or lending to Sally the Whisperer; Miriam couldn‟t get straight who
owned the thing. Gold pendant earrings completed this picture of understated elegance.
“I‟m going to lunch,” she told Miriam, and floated away on a wisp of perfume. She didn‟t
say where, or with whom, but Miriam‟s imagination set the scene; the Palm Tree, with its
muted lights, its private corners, its enormous tropical fruit drinks that you could share
with your lover.
Miriam returned to her reading. It was nearly noon, and possession of The Free Paper at
your desk during lunch hour surely was no crime. Yet Miriam held the paper in her lap,
halfway under the desk. She enjoyed this feeling of being subverted by a mad Hispanic
who urged the workers of Washington to “give me your scandals, no matter how big or
small, and I‟ll connect them all to the giant cesspool at the center.”
Further along, he protested: “I‟m not just your everyday malcontent; I‟m a genuine
rags-to-riches-to-rags story, with a cloud of illegality hanging over me since childhood. I
was known as Carlos Junior, when I crossed the Mexican border with my impoverished
family when I was eight. My family of six made its way to a trailer park outside
Washington, where my father worked as a day laborer and my mother as a domestic. I
enjoyed a standout high school career as a quarterback and placekicker, which helped
bring my family out of the shadows. One of my mentors, an assistant coach and history
teacher, proclaimed that I was as cool as Coolidge when I kicked; that‟s how I acquired
my Americanized nickname. I won a scholarship to the University of Maryland, where I
expected to take charge as I had in high school. But the stereotype of the Latino football
player overtook me, and I was relegated to kicker and backup quarterback.
“Despite this injustice, I was thrilled to get drafted by the Redskins, and I reveled in my
four seasons as their nerves-of-steel field goal kicker. But my position as the team‟s
union representative clouded my career. It came to a head during the eight-week players‟
strike that brought me national renown as a loudmouth. The negotiations were arduous
and ugly, and once play resumed, some of us labor agitators around the league found our
mistakes on the field trumped up by management. During the playoffs that year, I was
unfortunate enough to whiff a big one in the rain. That was all they needed to justify
getting rid of me. Several of us suffered that fate and failed to be picked up by other
teams. We screamed conspiracy and collusion, but couldn‟t prove it.”
Miriam‟s stomach growled. Before plunging into the political phase of Calvin‟s history,
she would pause and get something to eat. She started to switch her phone line to Cass‟s
desk, but remembered that her friend had been busy all morning taking dictation from
Mrs. Broadwater, a woman of the fifties when it came to office techniques. Miriam
buzzed Sally the Whisperer and asked her to cover the line for fifteen minutes while she
rushed to the snack bar, grabbed a sandwich and rushed back. She tried to give the
impression that she was too busy to spend much time away from her desk.
“Okay, but Gawd, please hurry back. I hate answering your phone. You have such mean
rejects, and they always seem to call at lunchtime. What do you do to make them that
“I‟m always my same charming self.” Miriam would presume that Sally was joking,
although she suspected hostility lurked underneath those sunshiny Southern tones. She
made it to the snack bar and back in ten minutes, and took out the paper again, hoping for
five minutes of peace. Before she could return to Calvin, Sally buzzed her.
“Here, take your phone back. FYI, that Dr. Weston called again.”
“God, he never lets up. Sorry about that.” Like hell she was. Let someone else deal with
the pest. He had called at least three times since the day Miriam had informed him of his
non-selection for the Parisian post. Miriam had deflected his wrath that first time, and he
had taken down Jocelyn instead. Since then, she had managed to be out when he called.
Still, she had the feeling he wouldn‟t rest until he got her.
“Actually, he wasn‟t so bad this time. He asked for Elaine Broadwater as if she was a
friend of his.”
“Oh, my. She really knows how to handle the rejects, doesn‟t she? Well, thanks for
covering for me. I owe you one.” Miriam, in her hunger, rang off quickly. She refilled her
coffee cup to accompany her chicken salad sandwich and picked up her paper. Surprised
though she was by the sudden turnabout of Dr. Philip Weston, she allowed this to drift to
the back of her mind.
“President Bailey, that ardent football fan, plunged into the fray. While he supported
management unapologetically, and defended the right of his friend Matt Boxley and other
owners to hire and fire as they pleased, he fretted over this continued labor unrest. It was
time, he declared, to establish an informal dialogue under his own tutelageat Camp
David, no less. He arranged a weekend summit between representatives of both sides. I
gave an impromptu speech at that session which must have impressed the old bastard, or
maybe scared him. Before I left on Monday morning, I had been offered a government
“You have to give the guy credit for a great public relations coup and a masterful attempt
to neutralize the enemy. And it worked. Admittedly, I was seduced by the title he dangled
before meWhite House liaison to the Hispanic community. I took the job and toiled in
it for over a year, nursing the slow realization that it was a sham. I ran an office that
received lip service instead of resources. My attempts to bring the President face to face
with community activists were cut short, or diverted to lesser officials. I was told my
ideas were too grandiose. Now, what in hell did that mean? I had proposed
demonstrations, a national convention, a Latino march on Washingtonnothing that
other activists haven‟t put to good use.
“Several aides suggested that I desist from my ravings. When I respectfully declined,
they suggested I should quit. That was the first good advice I got on the job. A couple of
the assistants I‟d hired myself walked with me. We formed a menage-a-trois, plus a baby,
as we moved on to the only organization we knew that welcomes has-beens and
screw-ups: the Community for Creative Nonviolence, more informally known as Mitch‟s
“There‟s been plenty of speculation as to my state of mind, especially in the pages of our
legitimate cousin, The Washington Post. An old columnist friend who used to chronicle
my exploits on the field has tried to get me to confide in him. Failing that, he has made an
object lesson out of me. He finds „breathtaking irony‟ in the tale of „an ambitious
immigrant who has fulfilled the American dream for his parents and siblings by buying
them houses, only to fall homeless himself.‟
“How did I do it, he wonders? „How could anyone with half a brain blow four years of
earnings in the multi-million dollar stratosphere, bolstered by a respectable if not
spectacular government salary? During his flush years he lived the typical lifestyle of a
big-time athlete, with a comfortable home in the northern Virginia suburbs and multiple
girlfriends. Could this account for his present bankruptcy? Girlfriends have been known
to do worse.
“‟The fall of Calvin Martinez has raised some political hackles. His former union has
grumbled about the lack of decent pensions for ex-players in his category. A liberal
editorialist in these pages has lauded him for standing up to the President, and suggested
there‟s a conspiracy afoot to keep him unemployed. A conservative pundit has hinted that
the supposed derelict still has money, and is putting on these poverty airs to gain
sympathy and embarrass both Bailey and Boxley. I suspect this debate will rage for a
month or so, and then drop from the media screen. Personally, I won‟t take up the subject
again, unless my friend Calvin does something remarkable enough in his weird
circumstances to make his tale at least comprehensible to the rest of us. But don‟t count
on it. There‟s nothing more stale in this town than an ex-football hero, and nothing more
useless than a disgraced ex-Federal employee.‟”
Miriam snapped back to reality as her intercom rang. Probably Sally, she thought, ready
for some payback on the phone coverage. She picked up the phone and barked, “Yes?”
“Miriam, please tell Renee to come to my office now.” Not the southern sunshine she
“Right now?” Miriam, startled, glanced at the wall clock. It was ten minutes past one,
which meant that Renee was ten minutes late getting back from lunch. Mrs. B had caught
her. Miriam considered ways of covering up for her supervisor, then wondered why she
should bother.
“Yes, I said now, didn‟t I? Or isn‟t she there?”
Miriam remembered that it was her responsibility to know her supervisor‟s whereabouts
at all times. That was the one piece of advice she had carried away from that god-awful
interview. “I‟m sorry, Mrs. Broadwater. Renee hasn‟t returned from lunch yet.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Yes, I‟m sorry.” Why in hell was she apologizing? “It looked like she had aa date.”
“A date?” The Deputy Director repeated the word with an edge. “Did she say where she
was going?”
“Well, no. But she was dressed to kill. It must be an elegant place.” That‟s enough
speculation, she told herself. You don‟t know for sure Renee‟s “date” isn‟t with her
But what was to keep Mrs. B from speculating? “All right, Miriam. Call Director
Wrightman‟s office and tell his secretary I‟d like to see him as soon as possible.”
Forced to be a spy, Miriam thought she might as well be thorough. She called
Wrightman‟s secretary, asked a few questions, then called Mrs. B back.
“Director Wrightman went to lunch just before noonin a three-piece suit. He‟s not back
yet either.”
“Is that so? Let me know the second Renee gets back.” Bang went the phone.
Miriam felt aroused by the hint of scandal, even if this wasn‟t one for The Free Paper. It
inspired her to do something impulsive. She picked up the phone and punched in a
memorized number.
“Oh, hi, Professor Whittle. Miriam Cooper. I hope I‟m not disturbing you.”
“Now, dearie, you couldn‟t disturb me with your little scandal. What‟s up this time?”
“Well, it‟s just thatI was wondering” Steady, she told herself. Gotta talk fast but
coherent. “I just wanted to let you know about aa little gathering Friday night at the
Kramerkeller club on Eighteenth Street. If you‟d care to join me there, any time after
seven, I could introduce you to the head secretary in our office. She‟s the one who
handles the main correspondence. I just thought, if we could talk to her in
anuninhibited situation, she might spill the beans about some things. Like strange
checks in the mail.”
“That sounds marvelous. I like the idea of interrogating someone in a noisy dive. I‟ll try
to drop in. You should be able to recognize me. I‟m sure to be the only frumpy,
redheaded professor storming through the door.”
“Great. I‟ll look for you.” Miriam paused awkwardly. “Also, I expect Calvin Martinez to
be thereyou know, the editor of The Free Paper. That‟s who I‟m trying to write the
expose for. Not that I‟ve actually met him yet, but I hope to.”
“Calvin Martinez. That name rings a bell. An alarm, in fact.”
“Well, it should,” said Miriam, “since The Free Paper is getting more and more
influential around town these days.” Someone paused in the corridor outside her cubicle,
and began to rifle through the supply cabinet. Miriam sucked in her breath, hoping that
the words “Free Paper” hadn‟t been overheard.
“Oh, hell, I don‟t read that rag. No, I mean I used to have a loudmouthed student by that
name in my Introduction to American Politics class. If it‟s the same guy, I think I pegged
him as the freshman least likely to coexist with civilized society.”
“Oh, wow, it‟s sure a small world, if that‟s the same Calvin.” Now voices sounded in the
corridor, and Miriam concluded hastily, “Well, I‟m certainly looking forward to meeting
you Friday night.”
“That‟ll be a big thrill.” The professor hung up in her usual preemptory style. The voices
grew distinct for a moment, then faded into conspiratorial tones. Renee and Sally, the
fools, were sharing some secret just out of Miriam‟s hearingas if she hadn‟t figured it
out over an hour ago. Time to put a stop to this nonsense.
“Hey, Renee,” she called, louder than necessary. “Mrs. Broadwater wants to see you.
Right away.” The confab broke up with groans, and Miriam couldn‟t help laughing as the
women took off in opposite directions.
Time to get back to work, but she couldn‟t resist one last glance at the premier Free
Paper. She cast her eye on the concluding paragraph. “I know I‟ll always be with these
homeless folks in spirit. Their degradation is my degradation. Nevertheless, I‟ll soon be
leaving them behind. I feel the upward pull of my new profession, and I‟ve always been
able to satisfy my personal goals in anything I‟ve tried. Besides, I‟m not as crazy as you
might think from this solitary, rambling piece. I‟ve got eager reporters under my wing. I
get frequent offers from women to set me up in better quarters, just because they think I
still resemble the football stud of old. I‟m negotiating with an Hispanic-owned press that
seems eager to print my most outrageous outpourings. Best of all, bureaucrats of
Washington, I feel your discontent, like rumblings underfoot. Some day the authorities
will be aroused to try to shut me down, and that could mean war. Meanwhile, my
circumstances will improve as my circulation increases. Maybe one day when I start
rivaling the Post, I‟ll move into the Watergate.”
Miriam smiled as she returned the paper to her desk drawer. He had moved up in the last
two years, but not that far. He still was fairly accessible, she believed, in a modest
apartment off Dupont Circle. If he proved unreachable at the club, an aspiring reporter
might leave an article under his doormat.
As she returned to work, Miriam sweated with a recurring sensation: piles of paper
closing in, natural obstacles to be chopped down. All I ever work for is the weekend, she
thought. I could choke on this paper before Friday night comes, or I could find a juicy
thread of corruption running through it.
She might build on the theoretical lead she had composed last weekend. How did it go?
“U. S. Peace grants are for sale, according to anonymous sources within the agency that
administers the program.” What next? “Secretaries at the U. S. Peace Council have
uncovered evidence that some of the most popular grants, especially those for teaching
and research posts in Western Europe, have been awarded in exchange for payments or
political contributions.” Not bad, if the evidence proved solid.
There was no use sweating over that now. Miriam worked steadily at her job for the next
two and a half days, minding her own business, until it was time to party. At five-thirty
on Friday she closed up shop and went to pick up Cass. As usual, that worthy secretary
could not be pried from her desk until almost six.
“Can‟t we get going?” asked Miriam, growing irritable after thirty minutes of reading the
memos on Cass‟s desk. “You know, tonight is partly in honor of you. I want to toast your
imminent departureor maybe I should say your theoretical departure. Anything to give
you a push.”
“Miriam, please, let‟s not talk about it here.” Cass glanced in agony at Mrs. B‟s open
“Don‟t be so paranoid. She‟s got to find out some time.” But Miriam lowered her voice
as requested. It took her a minute to realize that the Deputy Director was not in.
“God, Cass, what‟re we whispering for? Is her aura hovering over us?”
“No, of course not.” Cass blushed as she rose from her seat. “I‟ll just slip into the ladies‟
room for a moment, and then we can go.”
“Don‟t you want to wait till she comes back so you can ask her permission?” Miriam
regretted this slightly as Cass, who never responded well to sarcasm, took herself off in a
Once she was alone, Miriam‟s courage resurged. She picked up Cass‟s phone and
punched in another number she had committed to memory. She hoped Jocelyn would
answer instead of Heinz, and she was in luck.
“Hi, Jo. How is everything shaping up for tonight?”
“Everything‟s shaping up incredibly. If you and Cass can get here before opening, I‟ll
seat you at my own table. There‟s gonna be a big crowd tonight, so you better hurry.”
Miriam chuckled. Here were two of the primary reasons why Jocelyn aspired to manage a
nightclub: so that she could “open” a club that was in fact always open, and have her
“own” table, a place to seat people currently in her favor. If you got yourself
well-positioned, thanks to her good graces, you had a shot at being introduced to the
“right” people. Speaking of which:
“And Calvin? You‟re still expecting him?”
“God, yes. We gave him a sizable donation just to make sure he could get the September
issue out before September was actually over. He‟ll have his own space as usual to plug
it. This one‟s gonna go like hotcakes, with my photo of Larry Longford on the front page.
I kid you not, it‟s gonna make my name, and Calvin‟s too.”
“I don‟t doubt that.” Miriam had hoped to make Calvin‟s name herself. “I can‟t wait to
see it, although I‟m sure Cass will hate it. By the way, Jo,” she added in a more delicate
tone, “how are you feeling? Heinz told me the other day you were sick.”
“Oh, I‟m okay.” Jocelyn pushed this matter away like an unpalatable dish and rang off
Sally the Whisperer slipped into the suite before Miriam could get the phone down. She
grinned and brandished a small white envelope as if it contained a thousand dollars. “I
thought I heard you talkin‟ on Cass‟s phone. Was that crazy old Jocelyn? Better not let
Mrs. Broadwater catch you talkin‟ to her here.”
“Oh, silly me. I thought this was a free country.” Miriam tried to restrain this churlishness
and smile at Sally, but it went against the grain. Sally now made sure that Miriam
understood the perils of failing to secure her friendship. She waved the envelope again.
“I just came by to give this to Cass. It‟s too valuable to leave lyin‟ around, so I‟ll wait
until she gets back.” She eyed Miriam as a potential thief. “It‟s her ticket to the Redskins
game this Monday night. Fred and I have a block of premium seats, and we‟re treatin‟
some of our friends.”
“Oh,” said Miriam in a hollow voice. “That‟s a nice thing to do.”
“I don‟t go to that many games, even though we have seats,” continued Sally. “But I hear
this one is really big.”
“Sure, it‟s always pretty big when the Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys on Monday
night.” Miriam tried to show some spirit while she staggered inwardly from the deliberate
low blow. Nothing in her mind could compare to the excitement of the upcoming game.
The entire nation, more or less, would tune in to the showdown between the undefeated
rivals. To be there in person was the impossible dream of millions in and around the city.
The owner‟s box, and even the regular stands, would be filled with celebrities and
prominent people; it would be the party of the season. Miriam bit her lip to contain her
jealousy. How could she have neglected to get on Sally‟s good side with such a prize at
“Who else is going from the office?” she asked casually. Sally reeled off a surprising list:
Ginny the Giggler and her supposedly gay boss; Amelia, a non-football fan, and her
husband and kids; and of course, Renee and her husband.
“So you and Cass are going out tonight? That‟s nice.” Sally spoke brightly, but Miriam
detected mockery in her tone. The Whisperer knew she had rendered Miriam‟s evening
flat and stale. Friday night at the Kramerkeller, compared to Monday night at Boxley
Stadium, seemed a desperate joke. The crowd at the club would strive for a good time
and a sense of vitality, but the effort would exhaust everyone. Midnight would roll
around with only tentative liaisons made and drunkenness the dominant theme. By
contrast, the crowd at Boxley would roar with anticipation before kickoff, get carried
away by the action, and embrace the experience as participants in history. The difference
between the haves and the have-nots in this town could not be more stark.
How had Cass, a little girl trapped in an almost middle-aged body, established herself as
one of the haves? She wasn‟t even sharp enough to understand fully what she had
accomplished. Now she came bustling back from the ladies‟ room, glimpsed the envelope
and gave a shriek of anticipation. She had begun to thank Sally profusely before it
dawned on her that a snubbing had taken place. She glanced from one friend to the other,
finally fixing on Miriam a look of pity that irritated her unendurably. Sally exited the
scene, tossing out, “Y‟all have fun tonight, hear?”
“Well,” said Cass, as the women made for the elevator, “time for our girls‟ night out.”
Miriam hated this cliché of Cass‟s, which seemed to trivialize the Kramerkeller
experience. Miriam, at least, did not go there merely to obliterate her workaday life, but
to connect with certain undercurrents of society that the haves ignored at their peril. If
Cass could not be made to understand this, she was an unworthy companion, even if they
were stuck with each other tonight.
Miriam hoped that Cass would hold her silence about the incident with Sally, but she
wouldn‟t be Cass if she didn‟t bubble over with regrets. “I really wish you were going to
the game too. I didn‟t mention it sooner because I didn‟t want to hurt your feelings. Sally
and Frank only have a limited number of tickets, you know. I‟m sure they would have
liked to treat more people. Maybe they‟ll invite you next time.”
“Maybe they won‟t,” said Miriam. “In case you haven‟t noticed, Sally and I aren‟t the
best of friends.”
“Now, Miriam, you shouldn‟t be like that. It‟s so close-minded. You can get along with
anybody if you try.”
“I‟m afraid I can‟t be like you, Cass. I simply don‟t want to make the best of everything
and everyone.”
“I‟m just saying you could be more open and accepting of others,” advised Cass. “You‟re
already smart and attractive. Everyone would like you if you were always as nice as you
can be.”
Miriam regarded with disdain the secretary whom everyone likedthis open, guileless
woman with a knack for embracing experiences and people, even in a dull office. She
performed what Miriam called shitwork with no loss of dignity. While Miriam declared
almost every day that she was not paid enough to take abuse, Cass took it with
equanimity. She would soak in the scene tonight, and again on Monday. She would
giggle at the sight of Calvin Martinez, even if he couldn‟t compare to her hero, Larry
Longford. She would revel in the game, win or lose, and afterwards would describe it in
detail to her pals in the stockroom, even if she called them both Darrell. In short, she was
a woman who enjoyed life without stopping to analyze it.
Miriam felt a surge of inspiration that surprised her. As the women stepped off the
elevator and made their way outside, she flung her arm around Cass‟s shoulders. “I really
don‟t deserve a friend like you, you know that, kid? I gotta learn to be more like you.”
“Are you drunk already?” laughed Cass.
“I plan to be drunk on life tonight. Gotta take in everythingall the crosscurrents,
everything that‟s going on. Life will be happening in the Kramerkeller tonight, and it‟ll
be just as vital in its way as Boxley Stadium Monday night. Not that I don‟t envy you
that, though. I‟d give you a hundred dollars for your ticket. Two hundred dollars.”
“No way,” said Cass.
“In that case, I expect you to take in everything that goes on at the game, both on the field
and in the stands, so you can relive it for me later. And I mean every little incident, every
“I don‟t know what you mean by nuances,” protested Cass. “It‟s just a football game. If
the Redskins win, the crowd‟ll be ecstatic. If not, we‟ll all bedisappointed.”
“That‟s just it,” exclaimed Miriam. “That‟s why my hero is really more significant than
your hero, even though mine is a has-been and yours is playing in the big game. Calvin is
fighting more subtle battles these days. No one talks about his athletic achievements
anymore, but what he does now will have a longer lasting impact.” Miriam‟s own words
rang false in her ears. She had a feeling that there was nothing subtle about the revolution
Calvin had in mind. He intended to incite larger mobs than the fifty thousand that would
fill Boxley Stadium.
As they made their way across Dupont Circle and reached Connecticut Avenue, the
women continued their debate over the relative significance of their heroes. Miriam
teased Cass with the possibility that Longford himself might be a has-been by Tuesday
morning. True, he had proven gritty enough to win the first two games of the regular
season and hold Pete Spencer‟s fans in check. But he had yet to face anything like the
Cowboy pass rush, which he was not quick enough to elude. Cass fought back, praising
Longford‟s steady, if unspectacular, performance so far. She predicted the same against
the arrogant Cowboys, since Larry‟s toughness always compensated for his slowness.
She fended off Miriam‟s increasingly wild offers for her ticket, which had entered the
thousand-dollar range by the time the women reached the triangle where Connecticut
Avenue merged with Eighteenth Street.
They arrived at the club and pounded up the Stairway to Heaven; Cass grumbled at the
length of it while Miriam, waxing more and more poetic, urged her on. “Think of this as
part of our own climb toward greater heights. Look at the bands on the wall; the higher
we get, the more famous they are.”
“I hope you don‟t mean „higher‟ the way it sounded,” giggled Cass.
“Oh, no. Well, it‟s true I‟ve seen joints passed under the tables here from time to time.
But personally, I‟m only gonna be drinking tonight, and that in moderation. I‟ve got to
keep my wits about me.”
“Me too, I guess,” said Cass. As they reached the top they gazed at the color portrait of
Nichols, Powers and Judd, the only genuinely famous band that had ever played here.
They entered the club, only to be greeted rudely. “We‟re not opening till seven tonight,”
shouted an unfamiliar voice from the bar at their right.
“You must be new,” said Miriam, bristling. “We were told to get here early. We‟re
supposed to be seated at Jocelyn‟s table.”
The new employee glared at them. He had the muscular, unfriendly look of a professional
bouncer, but they had caught him drinking at the bar, well out of position to bounce them.
The more familiar Eric appeared from the left, where he had been supervising a
rearrangement of tables, no doubt to give Calvin space for his maneuvers tonight. Eric
displayed more authority than ever before, now that there seemed to be at least one
employee under him. “Those are friends of Jocelyn‟s, Leroy. Put them at her table.”
Leroy did as he was told, and turned charming in the process. “Here you go, ladies. Let
me get you your first drinks. What‟ll it be?”
The women decided to start cautiously with light beers, and work their way toward the
specialties of the house, the dark beer and cheap wine that would put them into orbit.
When Leroy brought the drinks, they ordered their initial cheeseburgers. “Where‟s
Jocelyn, by the way?” asked Miriam.
“In her office,” said Leroy, chuckling. “Business meeting between her and Heinz.”
“What do you think he was laughing at?” asked Cass after the waiter departed. Both
women eyed the closed door behind the bar.
“A business meeting between Jocelyn and Heinz could mean anything, I guess. It could
be a romantic interlude or a big fight. Or maybe botha quickie to patch up a quarrel.”
Cass continued to cast curious glances at the door until Leroy brought the traditional
Kramerkeller dinner, cheeseburgers smothered in potato chips. The women tucked into
this enthusiastically while they observed preparations for the night‟s activities. After
serving them, Leroy hopped onto the stage and assisted another burly young man in
moving musical instruments and amplifiers into position.
“Invasion,” said Cass, reading the T-shirt worn by the roadie. “What does that mean?”
“That‟s the name of the band Heinz co-founded,” explained Miriam in a confidential
tone, leaning over her cheeseburger. “He started out as their drummer, but was thrown
out at some point because they decided he wasn‟t good enough. They sort of kicked him
upstairs to be their manager.”
“Well, that‟s better than nothing,” said Cass. “I guess he doesn‟t mind that much or he
wouldn‟t let them keep playing at his club.”
“Oh, I‟m sure he minds a lot,” said Miriam. “I‟m sure anybody would rather play with a
band than sit in an office doing the paperwork. But they do let him sit in sometimes when
they don‟t have their regular drummer. And they did consent to a management contract
with Kramer Productions, even though both Jocelyn and Heinz are novices at the
business. I mean, how many other bands do those two have in their stable?” Miriam
glanced over her shoulder as she let this out, but the door remained shut. She could think
of only one other possible band in the stable: the group that Jocelyn had met and tried to
corral at Boxley stadium.
“So how famous is this Invasion?” Cass eyed the slight, hairy lead guitarist who had just
appeared at the center microphone to conduct a sound check. He looked neither
particularly famous, nor imposing enough to tangle with the short but muscular Heinz.
“They‟re about halfway up the stairway,” said Miriam. “Not too famous yet.” The squirt
with the guitar let loose a riff that sounded promising, but Cass flinched.
“I‟m gonna have a terrific headache before this night is over.”
“All part of the experience,” insisted Miriam, as the women braced themselves for the
evening‟s first eruption. The office door burst open and Jocelyn stormed out. She waved
Leroy away from the bar, took a quick inventory of his workspace, and nodded
tentatively. “Charge four dollars for beer and wine, no matter what he says. Change it on
the chalkboard right now. And bring me a double scotch at my table.
“Girls, am I ever glad to see you,” she continued, ducking under the partition in the bar
and rushing them with open arms. After hugs were exchanged, she seated herself at the
long table opposite her friends. “Hurry up with that drink, will you?” she bellowed at
“Well, what‟s going on in the Great Bureaucracy? Old Prune Face still running you both
“Not me,” said Miriam. “In fact, I think I‟m starting to get her number.” What she meant
by this she hardly knew; it must be the beer talking. “Poor Cass here is the one who‟s
being run ragged. At least one of my motives for bringing her here tonight was to get her
drunk and convince her she should march into Mrs. B‟s office Monday morning and blow
off her job.”
The women roared at this scenario. Spurred by the merriment, Leroy hurried over with
Jocelyn‟s drink. “How about a second round?” he asked the beer-drinkers.
“Let‟s start getting serious here,” said Jocelyn. “Two glasses of the house wine, Leroy,
and a cheeseburger for me.”
As the waiter rushed away, Cass‟s anxious eyes followed him. “Listen, I think I better
cool it. I heard you say the drinks were four dollars apiece.”
“Oh, that‟s only for the general public tonight. For my good friends, I‟ll let them go for
Heinz‟s usual giveaway price of two-fifty.” Jocelyn sighed and shook her head as she
gulped scotch. “He wants the stuff to flow like water, and almost as cheap. That‟s just
one of the things we‟re fighting about right now.”
Before she could elaborate, all three women jumped as the office door slammed open
again, ejecting Heinz like a missile. Without a word or a glance at anyone, he mounted
the stage. Miriam watched in fascination as the frustrated manager-musician exercised
the right she had urged on him during their lunchtime encounter just days ago. She still
believed that as the band‟s co-founder, he should seize the drumsticks as the spirit goaded
He set up a rhythm for the sound check, sounding tentative at first, then steadier. Soon
two other musicians, a bass and a rhythm guitarist, took their places on either side of the
lead guitarist. The band members glanced over their shoulders at their manager but
proceeded with the warm-up. The chaos they created, with their unconnected phrases and
tempos, formed a suitable background for the evening‟s preliminaries. Miriam swayed in
her chair, confused by the cross-rhythms and sudden stops and starts, but brimming with
As Heinz‟s warm-up pace increased, he let loose with a roll. “I didn‟t know he was that
much of a virtuoso,” said Cass. Miriam thought that was exaggerated, but conceded, as
the roll dribbled away, “He‟s certainly shown he can play with passion.”
“Passion, my ass.” Jocelyn sent Heinz a poisonous stare but missed. “He‟s turning into a
maniac. It‟s not enough that he‟s impossible at home; he‟d run this place into the ground
if I didn‟t stop him. The man has absolutely zero vision. Can you imagine what cheap
drink prices do to the quality of our clientele? If I hadn‟t enforced some changes, we‟d
have nothing but drunken riffraff here night after night. See, I want to promote events
that have cultural and political value to the community, but he‟d just as soon run a dump.
He‟d like to get rid of Martinez, for instance; he‟s paranoid about the politics. He thinks
because of Calvin, we‟re probably being infiltrated by government spies from the FBI or
CIA or whatever. Well, he might be right about that. Sometimes I notice these strange
types trying to melt into the woodwork when we have a crowd. But what‟s so terrible
about that? I certainly don‟t mind being controversial or tweaking the government‟s
Jocelyn spilled these unsettling notions in one breath. The effort seemed to cost most of
her energy. When Leroy brought her cheeseburger and the wine for her friends, she
regarded the meal with disgust. “Another scotch, Leroy,” she ordered.
As Heinz began his second roll, Jocelyn held her head in her hands as if to reduce the
vibration. Miriam tried to put a positive face on her own interference, which she
presumed Jo knew nothing about. “Don‟t you think playing drums for at least a while
tonight could do Heinz a lot of good? Maybe it‟ll clear his head and make him more
reasonable about other things. That is, if the other guys are good enough sports to let him
Jocelyn emitted a short laugh, which ended in a gag. “They have no choice. They don‟t
know it yet, but Heinz paid off their regular drummer to stay away tonight.”
Miriam began to wonder if she had unleashed a monster, as a third roll started up, filled
the empty corners of the club and rattled the glasses on the table. The other musicians
looked alarmed, while Jocelyn muttered, “He‟s gonna get a faceful of scotch if he keeps
this up.”
“You won‟t let him get rid of Calvin, will you?” Miriam tried not to plead, but felt her
interests threatened. “Calvin is what keeps this place politically alive.”
“Don‟t worry,” said Jocelyn with renewed energy. “We‟re gonna stay politically alive,
even if I have to keep paying Calvin‟s bills out of the company‟s funds every month. But
girls, that‟s not the worst of it. Heinz is fighting me over the welcome home party I‟m
throwing for N, P and J in November. They only have one open date during that phase of
their concert tour, and I‟m determined to get them here. I kid you not, I‟m planning the
biggest night this club‟ll ever see. But hehe” Jocelyn glared at Heinz, but seemed
unable for the moment to compete with his noise.
“He doesn‟t want them to come?” asked Miriam.
Jocelyn took a bite of her cheeseburger, demolishing half of it. Her second scotch arrived,
and went down as a chaser. She chewed vigorously and swallowed laboriously, as if
working up to a difficult response. Finally she admitted: “I still have to convince the guys
to give up a night off to play here. I‟ve talked to Nick twice while he‟s been on the West
Coast. He wants to see me, but he isn‟t convinced about the welcome home show. I‟m
gonna have to jump through hoops to make it worth his while.”
“Well, we all know you‟re capable of that.” Cass spoke in the usual disapproving yet
admiring way that betrayed her need for friends younger and more adventurous than
herself. She seemed to take vicarious pleasure in scolding Jo for her sins.
And sometimes Jocelyn reacted to this with surprising prudishness. “Oh, I know that‟s
what you thinkthat I just open my legs for every guy who comes along and that‟s how I
get everything I want. For your information, that isn‟t what I meant by making it worth
his while. Not that I won‟t spend some quality time with Nick while he‟s around. But I
want this welcome home party to be a big, public event. Like maybe a fundraiser for
some worthy candidate or cause.”
Better make it something practical, like abortion rights, thought Miriam with a suspicious
glance at Jocelyn‟s midriff. “What worthy cause?” she asked.
“I haven‟t decided yet. But it‟s gotta be something not only important to the community,
but something Nick and the others can embrace.”
Cass smiled into her wine glass. “There‟s only one thing in the world three rock
musicians would care to embrace, and that‟s a sexy groupie.”
“I‟m talking about something politically significant,” snapped Jocelyn, “and you‟re
talking like a bubblehead.”
“How about letting them embrace a politically significant woman?” joked Miriam. She
sobered up at the sight of Jocelyn‟s scowl. “Hey, Jo, maybe that‟s ita fundraiser for a
political woman. There are usually at least a couple of women on the City Council who
want to run for Mayor. And I‟ve heard our illustrious current Mayor might be in some
trouble with women voters next year.”
“Yeah, well, do you know who these women candidates are?” asked Jocelyn. She turned
over her paper place mat and took a pen out of her dress pocket. “Name them for me.”
But Miriam possessed only a superficial knowledge of local politics, not much more than
her friends.
As the sound check wound down, and regular patrons began to arrive, they spoke more
secretively. “So tell us, Cass,” said Jocelyn teasingly, “exactly what you plan to say to
Old Prune Face the day you quit your job.”
Cass reddened and glanced at the growing crowd. “I don‟t think we should talk about it
right now. Remember what you said about spies?”
“You think Mrs. B has planted her own personal spy at the Kramerkeller? She‟s probably
never even heard of this place.” Miriam laughed, while her friends remained stubbornly
serious. “Oh, come on, girls. How paranoid can we get?”
“Paranoia,” said Jocelyn, “is not always so crazy.”
“Since you‟re both so anxious for me to quit the Council,” countered Cass in a loud
whisper, “why don‟t you quit it yourself, Miriam? You hate Mrs. B much worse than I
Miriam had vowed not to let Cass turn the tables on her; their situations were too
different. Now she felt herself blushing. Like Cass, she glanced over her shoulder as she
attempted to explain her special position at the Council. “I can‟t quit yet. I have work to
do there.”
“And I don‟t?” demanded Cass. “You expect me to leave Mrs. B at a moment‟s notice?
That wouldn‟t be right.”
“You‟re talking about regular work. I‟m talking about a secret investigation. I want to
look into some of the funny stuff that‟s going on.”
“Nothing funny‟s going on right now,” said Cass. “Are you still talking about that
journalist who was killed in Latin America years ago?”
“No, I don‟t mean that particularly. I‟m not talking about so-called unfortunate accidents
in the past that‟ve already been investigated, or swept under the rug. There‟s nothing we
can do about that. I‟m talking about funny stuff that‟s being done right under our noses
every day. In fact, I‟ve invited a guest here tonight who believes she‟s a victim of just
that. We plan to discuss the possibility that the woman who got the Florence teaching
post instead of her did something underhanded to get it.”
“Oh, Miriam,” sighed Cass. “What could she possibly have done?”
“Maybe something subtle, like offering Mrs. B a bribe.”
“Heavens, how did you get so cynical?”
“How did you get so naive?” put in Jocelyn. “Bribes are small potatoes. You‟re so
concerned about one woman‟s greasy palm, you‟re missing the big picture. Personally, I
have no doubt the Council is supporting military actions abroadrevolutions and
counter-insurgencies and all kinds of right-wing stuff. I sensed that the whole time I was
working in the Latin American program. And I always thought that a journalist getting
killed down there suited Bailey‟s purposes just fine.”
Lately, whenever Jocelyn floated these wild theories about the Council‟s bloody hands,
Miriam had tried to talk her down. This time, as she explained the need to gather
evidence before rushing such accusations into print, she excited herself. What if Jo
proved to be right? One woman‟s greasy palm might connect to higher placed greasy
palms; the sleazy chain might go on and on, tying her office to a killing field somewhere.
She almost swooned to think of the investigative work that would be required to prove all
those links, yet Jocelyn was shouting in her face that the bloodiest scenario was the truth,
and no further evidence was needed.
At the point when Miriam almost succumbed to this argument, Jocelyn deflated
alarmingly. “Oh, God, I‟m gonna be sick.”
“Jo, you look almost green,” exclaimed Cass. “Miriam, we have to get her to the
As Jocelyn struggled to her feet with the help of a girlfriend on either side, Heinz took
advantage of the lull on the bandstand to unleash his most ambitious roll yet. Jocelyn
pushed away her friends and gathered her waning strength. She picked up her glass of
scotch and threw it at the drummer‟s head. Heinz ducked in time to avoid injury, but took
enough scotch in the face to blind him and put a stop to his solo performance. The club
was out one glass, which shattered against the wall.
Miriam and Cass hurried Jocelyn into the ladies‟ room to avoid repercussions from the
bandstand, and to prevent her from losing her meal in front of strangers. Their practical
concerns barely concealed their curiosity. They stood by while Jocelyn vomited into the
first toilet she could reach, then flushed the mess. She sat on the toilet for several
minutes, holding her head in her hands and moaning, but kept the stall door halfway open
so that her friends could administer some comfort.
“You‟re pregnant again, aren‟t you?” demanded Cass. Without waiting for an answer, she
grabbed a handful of paper towels from a dispenser and put them under a cold tap.
“It was dumb of me to drink that scotch and eat that greasy hamburger.” In swearing off
Kramerkeller refreshments, Jocelyn seemed to acknowledge her condition. Cass helped
her apply a cold compress to her forehead, while Miriam, less helpfully, stood by with
her arms folded as if awaiting a confession. But the sinner, intent on swabbing her face,
fell silent.
“Well?” said Miriam finally.
“Well, what?”
“Any idea who the father is?” Miriam hadn‟t meant to sound so judgmental, not to
mention drab by comparison. She had had sex with only one man since college; if she
had ever been pregnant, there would be no mystery about it. “How many possibilities are
there? Can you narrow it down for us?”
“Just two,” said Jocelyn, as if this represented economy of effort for her.
“Really, Jo,” said Cass, “it‟s not like this hasn‟t happened before. Don‟t you ever learn
anything from experience?”
“I guess your doctor has learned from experience how to do quickie abortions.” Miriam‟s
mean streak remained exposed.
“That bastard told me last time never to come back to him. He apparently has an abortion
limit of three per womana real moral guy. I‟m gonna have to find another doctor, if
that‟s what I decide to do.”
“You mean you might actually have the baby?” Cass burst out in maternal smiles. In
another moment she would be cooing over the idea of a nursery in the Kramerkeller.
“Heinz doesn‟t want me to have an abortion until we can find out if it‟s his.”
“You might not be able to find that out until it‟s too late,” remarked Miriam.
“But what if it is his? Wouldn‟t that work out nicely?” Cass conjured up a bright,
domestic scene. “Just think. He might be willing to marry you.”
“Willing to marry me?” repeated Jocelyn. “What makes you think I‟m willing to marry
“But what if he‟s actually”
“I don‟t want him to be the father,” burst out Jocelyn. “He‟s nothinga frustrated
musician who doesn‟t have a clue how to deal with musicians or the business. If I wasn‟t
here to prop him up, he‟d be in totally over his head.”
“Well then, what about”
“And Louis Bell is even more pathetic,” continued Jocelyn. “His article is nothingall
fluff, no substance, no real revelations. Without my photographs it would be a piece of
shit. No, I don‟t want him to be the father either.”
“Then what do you want?” asked Miriam in exasperation.
Jocelyn pondered for a full minute, dipping her head again. She began to sob with a
choking sound that made her friends fear she was sick again. But she sucked in her gut,
raised her head and regarded them with tear-bright, defiant eyes.
“I wish it was Nick‟s. That‟s what I want. He‟s the only real man I know, or want to
know. I want Nick‟s child, and nobody else‟s.”


                       CHAPTER SIX: Bathroom Drama

Miriam and Cass were dumbfounded by Jocelyn‟s declaration. They exchanged glances
as they waited for their friend, gripped by another wave of nausea, to recover sufficiently
to explain herself. How had Nick Nichols entered the picture?
“You must be losing it, Jo,” offered Miriam. “As far as I know, you haven‟t been with
Nick for two years. Except maybe in your dreams.”
“Why can‟t you forget that creep?” advised Cass as always. “Isn‟t it enough you‟ve
already had one baby by him that he made you give up for adoption because it wasn‟t a
“You don‟t have to remind me.” Jocelyn‟s tone was dangerously calm. “I think about that
baby night and day. I‟m in therapy because I gave her up.”
“Who knows how many other groupies he‟s impregnated on the road since then?”
Miriam felt compelled to goad the flower child. “Nobody knows, because nothing ever
seems to touch him. I‟ve heard how fame and fortune insulates these musicians from
responsibility. Somehow everything gets shoved under the rug by their managers or p. r.
agents or whatever. When the tour‟s over, Nick‟ll return to the hilltop mansion in North
Carolina where he stashes his wife and family, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts.”
“Meanwhile, here‟s this faithful guy who‟s given you a job, pays for your therapy and
might even marry you,” said Cass.
“If you‟re counting, there might be two guys willing to marry you,” said Miriam. “Have
you told Louis yet?”
“Not yet,” said Jocelyn dully.
“That should be entertaining,” said Miriam. “Why wait for the paternity test? Let Heinz
and Louis duke it out for you tonight on the dance floor.”
“They can kill each other for all I care.” Jocelyn bent her head and fell into
contemplation. A physical struggle was evident in the rise and fall of her gorge, while her
mental processes seemed equally engaged.
“Nick,” she murmured.
“What about him?” demanded her friends.
“He‟ll be here in about two months.” A surge of energy uplifted her. “I‟ll book him his
own hotel suite. We‟ll have two nights together, hopefully. A couple of weeks after that,
I‟ll call himhe should be in Canada by thenand tell him my period‟s late. That won‟t
be a lie, technically.”
“Technically?” repeated Miriam. “Let me get this straight. You‟re prepared to trick a man
into thinking he‟s gotten you pregnant, and you‟ll be telling him the technical truth?”
“I never heard anything soso immoral.” Cass‟s voice betrayed admiration for such
brazenness. “Besides, you‟ll never get away with it. Two months is too long a time. You
think Heinz won‟t blow your story? And Miriam and I know the truth too. If someone
asked us about it”
“I‟ll just say you‟re all jealous liars, trying to screw me out of spite.”
“Now, wait. Everyone can‟t be a liar.” Miriam stomped her foot on the damp floor, but
controlled herself. “What motive would we all have for screwing you? And why would
Nick be so gullible all of a sudden? Didn‟t you have enough trouble convincing him he
was the father last time, when he actually was? There‟s no way it‟ll work, Jo.”
“No, I guess not. You‟re right, girls, it‟s too wild an idea.” But wild ideas were her stock
in trade. Even as she acknowledged her folly and attributed her plan to raging hormones,
she simmered with the possibilities. “You‟ve got to admit, it would be one of the great
hoaxes in rock history.”
“It would be living a lie,” said Cass.
“But it would mean the world to me.” As she spoke, Jocelyn caught the downswing of
her energy cycle. Her world constricted once again to the vomit-tinged confines of a
bathroom stall. She held her head and bemoaned her lack of choices.
A mini-skirted, bejeweled stranger pushed her way into the bathroom and regarded the
scene with interest. Jocelyn shot back a hostile glare and pulled the stall door shut.
Careful, Jo, thought Miriam, this is one of your paying customers. Time to suck it up and
embrace the public.
The stranger ducked into the stall next to Jocelyn‟s, and Cass took the last one. Miriam
was forced to wait for an open spot, her need for it suddenly acute. Another overdressed
creature entered the bathroom and eyed Miriam competitively while both waited. Miriam
caught from her the pulse of the buildup outside. The two strangers represented the
leading edge of a crowd that must have begun partying in earnest. The teeming masses
soon would pile into the bathrooms. Miriam wondered what events had transpired while
she was caught up in this bathroom drama. What if Pamela Whittle had arrived and was
looking for her? Had she missed Calvin‟s entrance?
When Miriam took Cass‟s place, Jocelyn had yet to move. Miriam could hear her
moaning and breathing hard in the next stall, as if simulating labor. As more customers
piled in, Jo hissed, “God, what is this, Grand Central Station?”
“Jocelyn, you can‟t stay in here all night. What are you gonna do?”
“Hopefully, get my period.” Her voice was intense with the effort.
“What if you don‟t?”
Miriam heard Jocelyn sigh and struggle to her feet in acknowledgement that she could
not beat nature. Never before had she lacked a plan.
“Jo?” inquired Miriam.
“Girls, all I feel like doing right now is going into my office and passing out. I‟d kill for a
couple of Valiums.”
“Oh, great,” said Miriam. “Wonderful idea. Blow out the baby‟s brain with drugs.”
“Got a better idea?” asked Jocelyn, as she and Miriam burst out of their stalls in tandem.
The three friends lined up at the sinks and grimaced into the mirrors as if displeased with
what they saw. Under the glaring light, Miriam thought she looked as washed out and
weary as Jocelyn, and as old as Cass. Her rouge and eye shadow added to the effect. Had
she really thought she could impress anyone tonight?
“A coat hanger would be cheaper,” she replied, regretting the crudity as soon as she
uttered it. But her irritation was heightened as Jocelyn clung to the sink
melodramatically, drawing sympathetic gazes from a couple of young tarts who must
have lived through the same dilemma. This was hardly the vibrant atmosphere that should
have enveloped the Kramerkeller tonight. Miriam feared the evening would be
The bathroom door opened and a different specimen of stranger stepped ina heavyset
woman in a wool dress, with nearly uncontrollable red hair tied back in a ponytail. Her
bespectacled eyes took in the scene, and she began to chuckle. “I might have known a
ladies‟ room in a place like this would look more like a clinic.”
The satirical tone froze Miriam. This was not the meeting she had envisioned. Her plan
had been to rise gracefully from the privileged table near the stage and greet the professor
with a sense of purpose. Instead she stammered at the sink, which made the woman grin
in recognition. “I think I can detect a Peace Council secretary when I encounter one. A bit
mousy, but obviously ambitious.”
Miriam smoothed her hair and tucked in her blouse in an effort to collect herself. She
backed away from the mirror for her guest, but the professor showed no inclination to
check her own appearance. Finally she managed, “I‟m Miriam Cooper, and these are my
friends Cass Paley and Jocelyn Jones. Cass works at the Council with me, and Jocelyn
used to. I‟m really pleased to finally meet you face to face, Ms.Professor Whittle.”
“Yeah, I can tell.” Pamela Whittle shook hands with Miriam and Cass and smirked at
Jocelyn, who had not looked up from the sink.
“Jocelyn helps run this club,” blurted Miriam.
“Looks like she runs a tight ship. Well, don‟t mind me, girls. I‟ll just be a minute.” She
dodged into a stall, freezing out a young woman who had been waiting.
The bathroom door burst open again to reveal a tall blonde who looked comparatively
dignified in a light blue business jacket and matching knee-length skirt. “Pamela?” she
“Hey, Gloria,” responded the professor from her stall. “I knew you‟d be right behind me,
once you got a mouthful of that wine. It really bites, doesn‟t it? Girls, let me introduce
Gloria Stack, a former student of mine who‟s almost made good. I taught her political
analysis five years ago, and now she‟s a freelance reporter who‟s had a couple of pieces
in the Washington Post. She dropped in to see me this afternoon, so I thought I‟d bring
her along in case she can pick up a few tidbits by slumming. Shake hands, everyone.”
Everyone obeyed. Even Jocelyn, impressed by the Post connection, wiped her face and
hands and greeted the newcomer. Miriam‟s handshake was limp. It struck her how
foolish she had been to trust Whittle, a loudmouthed stranger, with her budding scandal.
Did this pair intend to swindle her out of the idea and trump it up for the Post?
“Are you working on a story hereright now?” she asked.
“Oh, no, nothing specific,” replied the reporter. “Just soaking up some atmosphere, you
might say.”
“Don‟t get paranoid,” bellowed Whittle. “You really think any bona fide journalist is
gonna look for a breakthrough story here? Christ, I‟m spouting blood like a geyser.
Menopause can‟t seem to catch up with me. Don‟t you be intimidated by my friend‟s
credentials or professional demeanor. If she should probe in your area, I‟m sure there‟s
still plenty of scandal to go around. Even a beginner like you can get in on it. Hey,
somebody hand me a Kotex. I saw a dispenser out there.” Jocelyn hastened to do the
Whittle‟s reassurances did nothing to calm Miriam. Resentment welled up as she
compared herself to the competition. She judged this Gloria to be a go-getter, the type
who could charm secrets out of sources before they knew it. Miriam felt stiff and staid by
comparison, but a proprietary feeling possessed her. The Council‟s scandals belonged to
her; no outsider would exploit them if she could help it. There was no way to prevent this
other than to escort these two guests to the table and ply them with enough drinks to
reduce their immediate effectiveness. Miriam vowed that her own drinking for the
evening was done.
Miriam‟s plan was delayed as Cass cornered the reporter, eyes glistening. “It‟s wonderful
that you‟ve had articles in the Post. I‟ve always thought that would be the most exciting
place in town to workapart from Redskins Park. Do you know if there are any job
openings at the paper?”
Gloria stared at Cass with undisguised suspicion. “Freelancing is a tough business, you
know. They don‟t just hand you a job. You have to fight for every inch of newsprint they
give you.”
“Oh, I‟m sure you do. But I‟m not trying to be a writer like Miriam here. I‟m just a
secretary, but I‟m a terrific one. I‟m sure I could help any of the writers and editors at the
Gloria‟s defensiveness melted away. “Well, there‟s no reason why you couldn‟t apply.
Some of the editors use secretaries, especially the ones who have managerial
responsibilities. In fact, I heard a senior woman editor say she‟d like to find someone
who can take dictation the old-fashioned way. I had to convince her I wasn‟t interested.”
“Oh, my, that‟s me,” Cass shouted. “I‟m very experienced at that. My boss at the Peace
Council likes to dictate.”
Gloria suggested that Cass contact the editor by phone or e-mail, and Cass declared
herself prepared to do so on the spot. She seemed confident at this moment, capable of
blasting through any typing or stenography test, fortified by the two drinks she had had.
She sighed over having to wait until Monday morning.
The three women and their two guests left the bathroom and reclaimed Jocelyn‟s table,
kept free of interlopers by Leroy. During their absence the club had come alive, charged
up by a crowd that had swelled and billowed into the empty spaces. Two centers of
activity alternately dominated the room. There was the small dance floor in front of the
stage, where several couples invented slow-dances as the band eased into its first number.
The music and gyrations intensified, causing one couple to bend lower and lower until
they hit the floor in a simulated sex act. Creativity abounded on the dance floor, but
Miriam‟s attention became riveted by the scene across the room, where something
intellectual rather than sensual was going on. She watched as people lined up to grab
newspapers off the long table, rifle through them and howl with glee.
My God, she thought, Calvin‟s here. The editor who loves to make hash of the
establishment is wowing his audience like a standup comic. They‟ve surrounded him to
hear his usual running commentary as he hands out papers. The crowd gets thicker and
more raucous every minute. How am I gonna penetrate it, when I can‟t even see him?
The proximity of her idol set her heart pounding in time to Heinz‟s drums, while his
inaccessibility froze her. What would be the point of getting to him anyway, when she
had nothing of substance to give him? She could not compete with those multitudes. Too
many aspiring muckrakers were shouting their sexy story lines and conspiracy theories in
his ear.
How would she build her own case? At least two lines of inquiry seemed possible. She
glanced at Cass, current custodian of Mrs. Broadwater‟s mail, but seemingly on the brink
of escape. A new friend was filling her head with visions of the workers‟ paradise that
was the Post newsroom. How to make Cass refocus on something as mundane as the
Council mail? It wouldn‟t be mundane, Miriam vowed, if there were funny checks in it.
But even if Cass had seen such checks, they hadn‟t struck her as funny. It would be hard
work pumping her memory.
Miriam counted on tying that thread of evidence, if it existed, to whatever thread Pamela
Whittle could produce. She hoped the professor had carried out her intention to research
the political connections of Faith Taylor, the Texan who had beaten her out for the
Florence grant. Miriam prepared to question her, only to find her distracted by Jocelyn‟s
tale of woe. While Jo poured out invective against men in general, and her men in
particular, Whittle laughed and agreed. The flower child expressed a wish for a Valium,
and the professor produced one from her purse. “I never leave home without them. I‟m
always meeting people who should be sedated.”
Jocelyn rose from her seat with the medication and a glass of wine. “Leave me alone,”
she hissed at her friends before they could protest. She slammed into her office.
“Somebody should stop her,” Miriam shouted in Whittle‟s ear, as the music reached a
crescendo. “She‟s pregnant, or thinks she is. That could be a lethal combination.”
“Her choice.” The professor shrugged. “Somebody‟s gotta take charge here. What‟s that
waiter‟s name?”
“Leroy,” said Miriam, “but I think he‟s busy right now.”
The waiter was serving a party of six halfway across the room, but that didn‟t stop
Whittle from bellowing an order. Her voice pierced the noise like a missile. “Hey, Leroy,
this is the VIP table over here, and it‟s going dry. Get your cute ass over here.”
Leroy scowled and prepared to deliver a rude retort, but a wink from the professor
startled him. He wrapped up his business with the other party and ambled over. “What‟ll
it be, ladies?” he inquired, returning the wink.
“Wine all around,” said Whittle, “and keep it coming. And some real drinks for us
heartier ladies. I‟ll have a gin and tonic. Anybody else?”
Gloria echoed Whittle‟s order, while Miriam and Cass ordered fresh cheeseburgers to
bolster their liquor. So much for Miriam‟s plan to manipulate the drinking dynamics at
the table and protect the flow of information; Whittle seemed prepared to dominate both.
After she had sent Leroy on his way, she studied the action across the room.
“What‟s the other waiter‟s name?” she demanded, eyeing Leroy‟s superior, who had just
served Calvin a carafe of wine.
“EricI think,” said Miriam, suddenly unsure of everything.
“Hey, Eric,” bellowed Whittle, “bring me one of those newspapers.”
The waiter looked startled, but nodded. Miriam found voice to say, “Please bring me one
“Newspapers all around,” commanded Whittle. Eric lunged into the crowd near Calvin‟s
table and emerged with a handful of tabloids. He handed them out, then disappeared into
the kitchen. The women had devoured the lead story by the time Leroy returned with
their reinforcements.
“This is so unfair,” said Cass. “They‟ve done everything they can to destroy Larry.” She
ignored the fresh cheeseburger in front of her and downed her wine instead, a sign of
distress. “This picture makes him look like some kind of madman. He may have shoved
Jo aside, but she really provoked him. I know, I was there.”
Cass‟s rising voice, filling a pause in the music, caused heads to turn toward the table. “I
was there too,” said Miriam, “and he acted like a madman. Not only did he push her
down, he jumped into his car and sped off without a backward glance. He didn‟t care if
he had injured her or not.”
“But she was the one harassing him. She was as bad as those paparazzi you hear about.
Anyone who chases a celebrity like that shouldn‟t complain about getting hurt.”
“Cass makes a good point,” said Gloria. “Some so-called journalists are better at creating
news than covering it.”
“It‟s not the picture that really grabs me,” said Whittle, her head buried in the tabloid,
“it‟s the story. The photograph alone won‟t land them in court, but combined with the
text, it‟s dynamite. It makes this Longford character out to be a violent psychotic who
somehow gets a free pass.”
“That‟s not necessarily libel,” said Gloria. “True, the story dwells exclusively on the
man‟s flaws, the drunken episodes and the failed marriages and all that. But that stuff‟s
on the public record, or should be.”
“Should be,” repeated Whittle, helping herself to a handful of Miriam‟s chips. “This
article implies that his shenanigans have been soft-pedaled by lenient courts. He got less
than a wrist slap for an auto accident that injured his daughter and several other kids. And
the last divorce proceedings were hushed up, as if there was something sensitive about
thema charge of spousal abuse, maybe? It does seem he has a genius for landing in
front of judges who have Texas connections.”
“That‟s hitting below the belt,” exclaimed Cass, “especially about his daughter. I‟ve
heard how much he adores that little girl. Besides, they say she gets along fine on
crutches now. She sits in the owner‟s box during a lot of the games, and some of the other
injured kids visit her up there. And didn‟t you notice how the article mentioned that other
incident when Larry was hit by a car on Dolley Madison Boulevard? It took him six
months to rehabilitate from two broken legs. Doesn‟t that prove Larry knows what it feels
like to be injured in a car accident himself? He was punished enough for committing aa
vehicular assault, or whatever it was.”
As the music tapered off, Cass painted an alternative picture of Larry Longford. Her
audience widened as she listed the charities he was known to support. With rising
passion, she described the scene she had witnessed herselfhis bonding with the inner
city youths on the night of the photograph. “Enough already,” laughed Whittle. “You‟ve
convinced me the guy‟s a misunderstood prince.”
“Are you sure you want to stay a secretary?” asked Gloria. “I think you‟d do just fine as
Larry Longford‟s public relations assistant.”
“Where‟s the muckraker who wrote this article?” Whittle‟s voice hurtled across the room.
“I want to lock eyes withwhat‟s his name?” She paused to check the by-line. “Would
Louis X. Bell please stand up? And his editor too?”
The crowd at Calvin‟s table partedmiraculously, Miriam thought. The editor stood up,
pulling the reporter after him. Miriam marveled at her first sight of Calvin; had she
imagined such perfection? His short-sleeved, black shirt accentuated muscular arms
glistening with sweat. His dark hair had grown past football regulation length; the stubble
on his chin and face threatened to burst into full growth. He greeted Whittle with a grin,
as if he appreciated shrill women. He spoke with a lilt rather than an accent.
“Pleased to meet you, ma‟am. We‟re the muckrakers of the hour.”
“You‟ve been accused of bias and irresponsibility in your portrayal of Larry Longford,”
shouted Whittle. “What have you got to say for yourselves?”
“I say that considering Longford‟s a public nuisance, a racist and a mediocre quarterback,
we probably let the bastard off too easy.”
The crowd murmured uncertainly, as the quarterback controversy threatened to flare up.
“He hasn‟t lost a game yet this season,” exclaimed Cass. “What‟s he got to do to get
some respect?”
“Win the big games,” shouted several voices.
“He‟s won plenty of big games,” said Cass. But a chorus of voices challenged this.
Longford‟s winning records with two teams over twelve years could not compensate for
failing at what really matteredtaking those teams to the Super Bowl and winning it. In
that sense, he lacked greatness.
“He could do it this year,” pleaded Cass. “He‟s off to a great start. Why not give him a
chance?” A smattering of cheers backed her up. But a larger roar went up for Pete
Spencer, the raw talent on the bench.
“You know how many great starts Longford‟s had in his career?” demanded Leroy, who
had just emerged from the kitchen. “I‟m an ex-college player myself, and I can tell what a
guy‟s limits are. Longford is tough, smart and determined, but that‟s not enough to go all
the way. Sooner or later they gotta turn to a younger guy who‟s also bigger, faster, and
has a rifle for an arm. That‟s Pete Spencer.”
“I‟m going to the game on Monday night, which will probably be the biggest game of the
year,” said Cass. “What if Larry beats Dallas? Will you people start believing in him
“That‟s the ticket, dearie,” said Whittle. “Let him lay it on the line in the big game, in
front of God and everybody. You sports junkies make me laugh. You get so agitated
debating what‟s gonna happen, when you‟ll find out soon enough.”
“With all due respect to you ladies, you don‟t understand the game.” Calvin‟s grin in
their direction was hardly respectful. “For your information, ma‟am, there‟s heavy bets
placed before every game, and that‟s why prior debate is so crucial. And as for you, miss,
you don‟t know your hero at all. The real story of Larry Longford ain‟t pretty, and it
could get uglier still if I keep telling it. My friend Louis has only begun to scratch the
“Then I hope he sues you both,” said Cass.
“You wouldn‟t believe me if I told you he was a racist, would you? You‟ve seen how he
hugs his black teammates and high-fives them, and even takes them out to dinner. But
he‟s a subtle racist, and that‟s the worst kind. I found that out when I was on the team. He
could screw up all he wanted, and everyone was expected to applaud his efforts. But if I
screwed up, his body language said, go home, Spic.”
“Did he ever, to your knowledge, use those actual words? Either in your presence or
behind your back?” demanded Gloria.
“I heard about it. But it‟s not what he says, it‟s what he represents. The system that
supports Larry Longford is a corporate and political mindset based on Texas moneynot
just oil money, like the Dallas team, but a lot more. The Redskins‟ owner, Matt Boxley,
and his buddy, the President of the United States, are vital links in the chain. They‟re
dedicated to one goalkeeping their own kind in power. Longford is one of their own.
Pete Spencer, who has the temerity to date a black City Councilwoman, most definitely is
“That sucks,” shouted an African American man. “Why should any black players put out
for Longford? Much less us black fans?”
“My life‟s goal is to expose rottenness like that and make people listen. But this system is
so ingrained,” and Calvin paused for dramatic effect, “it may take a popular uprising to
shake it.”
While Cass subsided in confusion, like most of the other fans, Whittle rose to her feet for
a closer look at Calvin. The editor returned her gaze with his unabashed grin.
“I know you,” she declared.
“I know you know me, professor.”
“It was ten years ago at least, but it‟s coming back to mea young firebrand in my
Introduction to American Politics class who used to stand up at the slightest provocation
and accuse everybody in sight of subtle racism. I don‟t believe anybody had knowingly
put you down because you were once an illegal immigrant, but you detected it anyway.
Your accusations sparked some lively debate in class, but you couldn‟t stand the heat for
more than a couple of weeks. One day you stood up, denounced me, the University and
everything in it, and walked out. You made noises like you intended to quit school
altogether, but I might have known you‟d never give up your football scholarship. For a
kid who was being subsidized because of some brainless talent, you were pretty uppity.”
“Forgive me, professor, if I disrespected you when I was a young agitator. I‟m sure your
course was enlightening for the majority of your students. But I didn‟t have the patience
to study a political system that was oblivious to my needs. I felt my illegal perspective
gave me special insights, and I was right. Now that I‟m an older agitator, I find my worst
nightmares as a kid are coming true. When my family crossed the Texas border, we were
hunted like dogs. We were poor, brown and unwanted. Since then I‟ve escaped poverty
more than once, but I can‟t escape my brownness. It still carries the smell of poverty.”
“Jesus Christ, you‟re more paranoid than you were as a kid. Louder and crazier, too.”
“How paranoid of me to notice that Texas values are taking over this entire country.
That‟s where this politics of exclusion, this money-is-everything philosophy, was born
and thrives. Now that it‟s centered in the White House, it reaches out like a spider web to
ensnare us all. It‟s permeated sports, which should have liberated me and so many of my
brothers. The owners treat you like commodities to be bought, sold, and discarded.”
“Yeah, what creeps,” shouted a goaded fan, “expecting you to get by on a couple million
dollars a year.”
“You seem obsessed with Texas,” remarked Whittle, “obviously because of your
childhood experiences, but isn‟t it time you grew up? One state in the Union can‟t be the
hotbed of all evil. What do you dream about in those nightmares of yours, ten-gallon
hats? There must be plenty of other
“Hey, Martinez, I‟m getting a revelation. Maybe you‟re not so crazy after all. I just
remembered why I came here tonight. It was to give somebody or other the dope on Faith
Taylor, who got the U. S. Peace grant that I applied for, and just happens to be a
University of Texas professor. And that‟s not all; she‟s a high-ranking official in the state
Republican Committee and a big-time fundraiser. What do you think of that, speaking as
a paranoid Hispanic? Does it mean that cesspool of Texas corruption has tainted
“Everything,” exclaimed Calvin. “I think we‟re onto something, professor. She raises lots
of money, you say.” The lead guitarist on the bandstand, who had held his silence during
this exchange, broke into the theme from “Dragnet.”
“It‟s worth looking into, no?” said Whittle. “And that reminds me of the other reason I‟m
hereto find out if any funny checks have passed through the Peace Council offices. I
gotta know who this Taylor woman is bribing.” Whittle turned her gaze on Miriam, who
held up a hand in protest.
“That‟s why I brought the head secretary here tonight.” Miriam gestured toward Cass,
who had resumed eating. “Cass handles all the Council mail when it first comes in.”
As Whittle refocused her gaze, Cass swallowed hastily. “I can tell you‟re a good
secretary,” laughed the professor. “Loyalty to your bosses has been ingrained in you. The
thought of betraying them makes you literally gag. But let me tell you something about
bosses who rely on a secretary‟s discretion. What they‟re banking on is your stupidity.
They assume you‟re incapable of analytical thought. They expect you to handle all kinds
of business without making distinctions between the legitimate and the shady. They count
on you to keep your mouth shut no matter what. I should knowI have occasional use of
a secretary who‟s cute and not overly bright. But he‟s very discreet.”
Cass washed down her cheeseburger with a swig of wine, then sputtered: “That‟s a
completely unfair stereotype about secretaries. I think I notice a lot of things.”
“Prove it. What have you seen and heard around the office lately?”
Cass reddened. “I can‟t say.”
“I knew you couldn‟t,” retorted Whittle.
“It‟s just that I don‟t open mail marked „personal‟ for my boss,” said Cass. “Even if I saw
some personal mail from Texas, I wouldn‟t know anything about it.” The lead guitarist
underscored this with the opening bars of the old rhythm and blues classic “Money.” The
rest of the band picked it up.
“Think harder, dearie,” urged Whittle. “Seen anything lately that could possibly be a
Bank of Texas check?”
Cass‟s chin slackened under questioning. “There is that sealed envelope Mrs. B gives me
every week for the bank courier. I assume there‟re checks in those envelopes, but I can
hardly tear them open to find out, can I?” The band increased its tempo. “And even if I
did look, I‟m sure they‟d turn out to be checks from the public for things like pamphlets,
xeroxing, Privacy Act research, stuff like that.”
Louis X. Bell, who had begun scribbling in a spiral notebook, stood up and demanded,
“Can we go somewhere and talk privately?”
“Oh, no, you don‟t.” Gloria jumped to her feet. “I saw her first.”
It‟s all blown to hell, thought Miriam. Louis and Gloria have my story; already they‟re
fighting over it like ravenous dogs. Watch them converge on poor Cass, even as she tries
to tell them she doesn‟t know anything else. Let them squeeze her dry. What do I care?
I‟m just here to get drunk.
“Hey, Leroy.” She tried to bellow across the room like Whittle. But the waiter paid no
attention, having immersed himself in a squabble with two patrons who sported Longford
jerseys. Desperate, Miriam took advantage of the professor‟s turned back to pick up her
gin and tonic and gulp it down.
“Quiet, everybody. I‟d like to propose a toast.” Calvin‟s voice brought all activity to a
standstill. Louis and Gloria halted their efforts to direct Cass toward the office behind the
bar, which they failed to realize was occupied. Suddenly the door flew open and there
stood Jocelyn, pale-faced, panting, but strangely elated. The band subsided, and the
extraneous football arguments ceased. Even Whittle stopped jawing and turned her
attention to the editor.
“Here‟s to Pete Spencer and his lady friend, the delectable, ebony-skinned Lainie Palmer,
whom The Free Paper will one day soon endorse for high office. I swear I‟ll be able to
retire from my agitating the day those two become the first couple of this city:
quarterback of the Redskins and Mayor, respectively. That‟ll sure put a crimp in the
Texas cabal.” The crowd‟s reaction to Calvin‟s toast was mixed, but the drinks went
down smoothly.
“Great speech, Cal,” shouted Jocelyn. Motioning aside Eric, the current bartender, she
poured herself a glass of wine and joined the toast belatedly. Still holding the glass aloft,
she hurried around the bar and met her collaborator. “Louis, my man. How‟d the issue go
down? Did we knock them dead?”
“Did we ever. Longford‟s reputation has taken a nosedive. People absolutely howled over
the picture. They also got the idea you‟re not the first woman he‟s assaulted.”
“What‟re you after now?” asked Jocelyn. “You and the Post lady ganging up on my pal
Cass? Gonna dig up some dirt on her boss, Old Prune Face? You might have to rough
Cass up to get anything out of her. She actually loves her damned job.”
“Please, Jo, tell them I‟m just a secretary.” Cass seemed to have suffered second thoughts
about dishing any dirt. “I just mind my own business. Really.”
“Don‟t you believe that for a minute, guys,” exclaimed Jocelyn. “Secretaries are the
sneakiest creatures on earth when they choose to be. And that Peace Council is rife with
scandal. I sensed it every day I worked there. I kid you not, this woman knows where
some bodies are buried. Go ahead, use my office. Interrogate her until she drops.”
Jocelyn pointed the trio toward the open office door, and sat down at the VIP table.
“Miriam, pal of mine, how‟s it going?”
“Oh, it‟s going,” said Miriam drunkenly, “right out the windowmy life‟s dream. But
hey, that‟s life. At least you seem to have perked up.”
“God, I‟ll say. I‟m not pregnant. Isn‟t that amazing? I didn‟t even take the Valium, I just
went into my office and sacked out on the couch. When I woke upblood, glorious
blood, all over my panties and even the couch.”
“You sure like to show it off, don‟t you?” remarked Whittle. “I think it‟s starting to
penetrate that skimpy white dress.”
“Oh, Christ. Step aside, girls.”
Jocelyn was in and out of the bathroom in a flash. “You bullshitted me,” she accused the
professor. “There‟s nothing on my dress.”
“Yeah, well, that was just a little payback for all the bullshit you avoided when you
dropped the nighttime version of my Introduction to American Politics class. That may
have been a couple of years ago, but I never forget the dropouts.”
“What‟s your problem, Professor? Can‟t you keep anybody in your classes?” Miriam had
chucked off her inhibitions, but no one seemed to hear her over the crowd noise. She took
another swig of borrowed gin and tonic.
“You‟re shitting me again,” said Jocelyn. “You were the teacher? God, I was so out of it
then, I can‟t remember a damned thing about it. That‟s around the time I found out I was
pregnant with Nick Nichols‟ child; I was so distraught over him I couldn‟t think about
anything else. Besides, I didn‟t have an idea what I was doing in college back then. I had
about three semesters‟ worth of nighttime credits, but I couldn‟t decide on a major.”
“You never will, Jo,” muttered Miriam. “That would require some focus in life.”
“The same class is being offered Monday nights next semester, in case you should get
your act together any time soon,” said Whittle.
“I actually thought about majoring in Political Science at one time. But when I go back,
it‟ll be in something practical, like business administration.” Brimming with that
ambition, Jocelyn took the borrowed Valium out of her pocket and slapped it into
Whittle‟s hand. “Thanks, but I decided it‟s better to get through the night without this
“Admirable. But why don‟t you keep it for the next emergency?”
“There isn‟t gonna be a next emergencynot like this one. I got my career to think of.”
Jocelyn glanced at the tabloids scattered across the table. “So what‟d you think of the
“Vicious, possibly libelous, but definitely riveting.”
“Great. Where‟s our fearless editor? I got some incredible new ideas to lay on him. And
Miriam, didn‟t I promise you could meet him? That‟s all you talk about whenever you
come in here for lunch. Why‟re you sitting here moping when he‟s over there for the
Miriam glanced wearily across the room, where the crowd seemed more impenetrable
than ever. “What do you mean, for the taking? Who can even get near him? And if I
could, what would I say to him? My idea for a story has beenshanghaied.” She cast a
bitter look at Whittle, who seemed surprised.
“Honestly, dearie, I didn‟t mean to shanghai anything. I thought this setup might interest
Gloria, and she might snatch a few ideas out of the air. I figured there‟s a million stories
in the political city, and more scandal than is fit to print.”
“You got that right,” said Jocelyn. “Self-pity doesn‟t become you, Miriam. The Peace
Council is full of angles, if you‟d just open your eyes.”
“What angles are you talking about?”
“Oh, just that it‟s a front for right-wing militarism all over the world. There‟s a reason
why we call it the Covert War Council.”
“Really, Jo, I‟ve had enough of fantasyland.” Miriam had drunk herself past the point
where conspiracy theories were logical, or even fun. “You don‟t have a shred of evidence
to support that.”
“Maybe not, but I know what I know about right-wing governments. Have you forgotten,
I used to work in the Latin American program, the bloodiest of all? At least one journalist
we sent there perished. Calvin would eat that up, being from Mexico himself. Why don‟t
you go up there and tell him you‟re looking for evidence that the United States is trying
to destabilize the Mexican government?”
“That‟s totally ridiculous. Last I heard, the U. S. was perfectly friendly with the Mexican
“Maybe on the surface, but the Bailey Administration is always determined to destabilize
someone, especially south of the border. The bureaucracy is permeated with thugs who
live for that.”
Jocelyn, with an assist from Whittle, pulled Miriam to her feet and pushed her in the
direction of Calvin. “You two girls go ahead. Bowl him over,” said Whittle. “I‟ve already
had the pleasure. I‟m gonna go join the interrogation of your secretarial friend.” As
Miriam watched, Whittle found her way around the bar and pounded the office door,
which opened for her.
“I wanted to at least be sober when I met Calvin,” protested Miriam as she and Jocelyn
threaded their way across the room. “Can‟t I get a cup of coffee first?”
“Nope, that‟s a delay tactic. Time to take the plunge.” The crowd around Calvin parted
somehow for the Assistant Manager. Before Miriam could catch her breath, she stood
before the grinning editor without a rational thought in her head.
“Jocelyn, love.” He rose to his feet and kissed Jo on the cheeka rather chaste greeting,
considering his reputation with women. He regarded Miriam with a generic leer
undoubtedly reserved for unfamiliar women.
“Everyone‟s been waiting for the renowned photographer to make her appearance. Where
you been hiding yourself, love?”
“I don‟t think you want to know, Cal.” Jocelyn put on a mysterious air. “I‟m doing good
now. In fact, I just had a hell of a brainstorm. Did I hear you say you‟re gonna endorse
Lainie Palmer for Mayor? She‟ll be needing a fundraiser, right? I‟m thinking we could
put one on sometime soonmaybe in conjunction with the return engagement of
Nichols, Powers and Judd, which would really make a great cover story for you. Can we
put our heads together on that for a minute?”
Miriam began to fear they would keep their heads together for an hour, while she stood
by like a fool. She took the opportunity to study her idol up close. Like many ex-athletes,
he had softened in places. The incipient beard failed to conceal the roundness of his face,
while the black T-shirt bulged with something beyond weightlifter‟s gut. Her critical
examination did nothing to appease her longing. She found his fleshiness enticing, while
his grin exuded energy.
She cut through their confab: “Aren‟t you even going to introduce me, Jo?”
“Gracious, where are my manners?” exclaimed Jocelyn. “Calvin Martinez, this is my
dear friend Miriam Cooper. We used to be buddies at the U. S. Peace Council.”
“Charmed.” Calvin put out his hand and Miriam grasped it and held on as long as she
dared. She wished she could lose herself in his firm grasp.
“What‟s your claim to fame at the U. S. Peace Council?” inquired the editor.
“Oh, I‟m just a secretary. But you know what they say. We always know where the
bodies are buried.”
“Is that so? What bodies are you talking about?”
That grin of his incited her to outrageousness. “I‟m talking about body counts. The U. S.
Peace Council is the biggest misnomer in government. Some of us call it the Covert War
Council.” Other recent phrases of Jocelyn‟s rattled around in her head. “There are rumors
that the Council secretly supports right-wing revolutions and counter-insurgencies all
over the globe. Our officials could have all kinds of blood on their hands.”
“Intriguing. What‟s your Council‟s business in Mexico?”
“Oh, lots of shit, I‟m sure.” Miriam paused to steady herself, but dizziness prevailed. She
plunged ahead without evidence or caution. “It‟s been whispered that the U. S. supports
Mexico‟s efforts to suppress a popular liberation movement.”
“Well, naturally, that‟s what right-wing governments do. Can you come up with
something a little more specific than that, love?”
Miriam grew hot and flustered, having used up her store of borrowed ideas. How far
might her own imagination carry her? “Well, listen to this. One day that popular
movement will get strong enough to retaliate. What‟s to keep a squad of Mexican
freedom fighters fromfrom surging across the Texas border and attacking the U. S.?”
“Remember the Alamo,” exclaimed Jocelyn. “Isn‟t that when the Mexicans retook
Texas? Or is that when the U.S. took it?”
“If they want to retake Texas tomorrow,” said Calvin, “I‟d let them. No great loss.”
Still, the editor grinned in his titillating way. Miriam was determined to bowl him over
with a story of her own devising. Obscure tales of Latin American intrigue, murder and
magic, some gleaned from newspapers and others from fiction, mingled in her mind.
“Of course, no Mexican freedom fighters worth their salt would be content just to create a
little havoc near the border. They‟d want to make a bigger statement than that. I envision
them reaching deep into this country and attacking the most inviting targets they can
“Such as?” Calvin‟s eyes widened.
“Such as any Mexican-American who‟s made it big here. They‟ll say he‟s turned his back
on the poor people of Mexico and deserves to die.”
“I may have made it big here,” declared Calvin, still grinning, “but I‟ve been poor
tooseveral times. I‟m poor now.”
“But you won‟t be for long. You‟ve never been poor for long. You can‟t be. You have
thisthis aura of greatness about you. One day soon you‟ll be living in the Watergate,
just as you predicted in your premier issue.” She tried to picture living there with him.
The joy of it became mingled with disgust, as she saw herself in a harem.
“This is great,” exclaimed Jocelyn. “I told you you‟d hit it off with him, Miriam.”
“Hit it off? Sounds like she‟s trying to get me knocked off. But she could be on to
something. You can believe there‟re folks back in the old country who resent immigrants
here living the so-called American dream. And the U.S. government ain‟t exactly
enamored of my big mouth. Two countries could easily unite against someone they both
hate, don‟t you think?” Calvin pointed to his head with his index finger and pulled an
imaginary trigger.
Now he‟s laughing at me, thought Miriam, but even so he‟s eating it up. If I keep
encouraging him, he might start promoting himself in his paper as a target of
international assassins.
“You have a vivid imagination, love.” Calvin‟s eyes danced, betraying what she hoped
was a hint of admiration.
“Yeah, I guess so. Although I‟m probably too drunk to know what I‟m saying.”
“Aren‟t we all?” Calvin held up his carafe of wine.
“But that‟s not the way I wanted this evening to go down.” Miriam lurched forward,
putting her head level with his. “I‟d like to talk to you in another time and place, when
we‟re both sober. I‟d like a chance to separate all thisthis fantasy from fact. And
furthermore” She cast a look of disdain over her shoulder at the closed office door.
“I want to talk about significant issues. Not just a few stupid checks that might have
been sent to our office by someone who happened to get a Peace grant.”
“You don‟t want much, do you? Just to get me alone in a quiet place, both of us cold
sober, to discuss business. That‟s not the way I usually operate. I like to deal with private
things in private and public things in public.”
“I can set this up right now,” interjected Jocelyn. “Just give me a moment to clear that
group out of my office so you two can be alone. Private or public business, what‟s the
difference? I‟ll even send in a pot of coffee if you want.”
Nirvana awaited Miriam in that office. She made a move in the approximate direction,
but Calvin stopped her with a cruel shake of his head.
“Frankly, my dear, I don‟t think you have anything. You‟re bluffing, just to get your
hands on my charming carcass.”
Miriam‟s vision of Nirvana collapsed; her aggressive front shattered. “Okay, I admit it. I
don‟t have anything, except my vivid imagination. But isn‟t that something?”
Calvin looked past her at the reviving activity on the dance floor. The band had started up
again after a brief respite at the bar, and gyrating couples were putting on a show. The
time for serious talk was slipping away, but Miriam vowed to seize the moment. She had
Whittle‟s gin and tonic working to grease her nerves; at least the bitch professor had been
good for something tonight. She would collar him, shout in his ear, get in his face.
“Wait just a minute, buddy. What‟s wrong with a vivid imagination? That‟s all you really
have yourself. You keep writing about thatthat spider web or octopus of corruption that
permeates everything. But what have you proven so far? It‟s mostly just hunches, just
feelings, which I share. I want to find out where they lead to. All I want is to be one of
One of his what? She longed to be his star reporter, but with nothing yet to report, she
would have to settle for something less. She knew he maintained contacts within the
Great Bureaucracy, whom he referred to as his moles. So what if they were in fact his
harem? Miriam lusted to join. When he motioned her to come closer, she lunged across
the table. She would take him right now, on top of the table or under it.
But he only meant to whisper in her ear. “I‟ll tell you something I‟ve only told a select
few girls. I‟m at home to visitors in my digs on P Street around noon most weekdays. I‟ll
interview or be interviewed by anybody who can catch me alone.” That teasing tone
seemed to put space between them. “Better act quickly, before I move up to the
Watergate. I‟ll be out of your league then.” His grin began to repel her. Would he ever
take her seriously?
“I work at Dupont Circle,” she warned him. “It‟s only a couple of blocks from your
place. I can get over there almost any work day during my lunch hour.”
“You do that. Maybe we‟ll cook up a juicy story for lunch.”
“Yes, we will,” she declared, refusing to acknowledge the irony in his tone. The day she
caught him alone, he might or might not get a “nooner” from her. But she would be
armed with a story, or at least a prospective story, enough to allow her to confront him
with dignity.
She was losing the struggle to keep his attention, as competitors moved in on her flanks.
She glimpsed to her left the hyperventilating, bespectacled face of a serious reporter, and
to her right the wild perm and bangles of a prospective lay. Effectively dismissed, she
allowed Jocelyn to lead her away. A wave of nausea almost bent her double.
“Jo, please help me to the bathroom.”
“God, you too?” laughed Jocelyn. “That‟s been the hot spot tonight.”
The women returned to the scene of Jocelyn‟s earlier struggle. Finding the stalls full,
Jocelyn led Miriam to a sink and encouraged her to let loose. But Miriam‟s gorge rose
and fell unproductively. Trust Jo to outperform her even in sickness. Miriam grabbed the
first free stall and held it nearly half an hour against protests from other patrons. Little
came of it, but she had time to ponder the evening‟s main encounter and to plot her
follow-up move.


                     CHAPTER SEVEN: The Great Escape

Miriam spent the rest of the weekend at home nursing the hangover she felt she had
earned. She planted herself in the bathroom, pad and pencil in hand, and awaited violent
emissions both physical and intellectual. Waves of inarticulate excitement overtook her at
times, but little else. She came to realize that Friday night‟s eating and drinking binge had
not reached the legendary proportions she had thought, nor had she bowled over Editor
Martinez with her ideas. Her phantom hangover consisted of titillated nerves. But a story
line emerged from the fog, and then a parallel line. She contemplated doing a profile of
two applicants for the same Peace grant: the successful grantee and the reject.
The office seemed strange on Monday morning. The work loomed before her in the
familiar piles, but the work process had been undermined in subtle ways. Her colleagues
had no inkling that she had told tales at the Kramerkeller in the presence of the
underground press; that the Peace Council had been publicly proclaimed the Covert War
Council; that she knew where and when Calvin‟s charming carcass might be had during
work hours. Stranger still, the secretary to Mrs. Broadwater was not at her desk.
It was Sally the Whisperer who brought this up. “Gawd, Miriam, what‟d you do with
Cass?” she demanded in her foghorn voice. “Did you keep her out all night Friday? She
better not be sick because we have big plans for tonight. First, dinner at the Palm Tree,
then premium seats for the Redskins and Cowboys.”
Gawd Almighty, thought Miriam, I almost managed to forget about that. Thanks, Sal, for
reminding me. “Listen, I wouldn‟t worry too much about Cass. She‟d get out of her
deathbed to go to that game.”
“But it‟s not like her to take time off without warnin‟,” persisted Sally. “Do you know if
she‟s sick?”
Who isn‟t sick of this prison? Let Cass try to break out if she can. “Actually, I don‟t think
so. I think she‟s attending to some personal business.”
Irritated at the mystery, Sally stomped off. Miriam tried to collect herself, but everything,
including the modular furniture and the computer, seemed off kilter this morning. She
groped her way through the papers on her desk with a sensation of climbing uphill. Here
she was, still stuck in form letter hell, while Cass was out in the world trying her wings.
Friday night, unreal as it seemed, must have cracked the door open. Cass‟s chance
encounter with a reporter had given her a lifeline. While Miriam wrestled with a printer
that seemed to balk at the repetitiveness of the chore, she pictured Cass steaming through
the typing and shorthand tests that would propel her to the big time.
Miriam‟s stupor lingered half the morning until she received a jolt on the phone. It did
not come from any of the snotty scholars whose calls she passed into Renee‟s voice mail
without a qualm, since Renee herself was not there to object. The ring of the intercom, in
its shrillness, always alarmed her more than any number of simultaneous outside calls.
“Miriam, Cass called and said she won‟t be in until this afternoon. I‟d like you to cover
for her over here until she arrives. Transfer your own lines to Cass‟s phone. And tell
Renee where you‟ll be.”
“I‟d be glad to,” said Miriam, “but Renee isn‟t here yet.”
“Isn‟t here? Of course she‟s here.”
“No,” said Miriam, growing nervous, “she hasn‟t come in. At least, I haven‟t seen her.”
“That‟s ridiculous. I saw her downstairs just a few minutes ago. She hasn‟t made it up
here yet?”
Miriam was stumped for a reply. “Never mind that,” snapped Mrs. B. “I‟ll find her. You
just get over here right away.”
Miriam hurried to the Deputy Director‟s suite, leaving her own work behind. Within
minutes she made herself at home at Cass‟s desk and began to survey the area. She
seemed to breathe easier in this smooth terrain, without the mountains of files. She
sneaked a look at Cass‟s steno pads, labeled according to the kinds of correspondence
they contained. There were letters to successful applicants; Mrs. B never communicated
with rejects if she could help it. There was a more ambiguous category called
“administrative business.” Most intriguing was the Congressional mail. Miriam rifled
through this notebook, hoping to discover which Congressmen and Senators had an
interest in the Council. One day she might find herself testifying at a televised hearing on
the Council‟s secret dealings.
When Mrs. B‟s outside line rang at 11:00, after an interval of peace and quiet, Miriam
dropped the pad. Renee‟s breathless voice added to her disorientation. “Miriam? What
are you doing at Cass‟s desk?”
“I‟m covering for her.” At least, thought Miriam, I‟m reasonably close to where I‟m
supposed to be. “And you‟re on the second floor, right?”
“The second floor?” Now Renee sounded perplexed. “No, I‟m still at home. Something
came up. Will you please let Mrs. Broadwater know I‟ll be in by noon?”
“Sure, but”
“But what?”
“Nothing. I‟ll see you at noon.” It was not Miriam‟s place to discuss Mrs. B‟s apparent
hallucination, as long as it didn‟t affect her. A moment after she hung up, the Deputy
Director came out of her office, looking grim.
“Has Renee turned up?”
“She just called.” Miriam kept her voice casual. “She said she‟d be in at noon.”
“Is that so? Where was she calling from?” Mrs. B seemed intrigued rather than angry.
“From home.” Miriam‟s own suspicions began to stir. She locked eyes with Mrs. B.
“That‟s what she said, anyway.”
“Call her back. I want to talk to her right away.”
As Mrs. B returned to her office, Miriam punched in Renee‟s McLean number. She got
the answering machine as she had expected. She hung up without leaving a message and
marched into Mrs. B‟s office to report her discovery. The Deputy Director furrowed her
brow, while Miriam held onto her cool front. It wouldn‟t hurt if the woman came to
regard her as another weasel along the lines of Sally the Whisperer. Hadn‟t Sally just
been promoted? A slight smile flickered across that prune face.
“That‟ll be all for now, Miriam.”
Miriam returned to Cass‟s desk, where relative peace and quiet continued to prevail.
When calls came through on her transferred line, she dropped them into Renee‟s voice
mail as if they were no longer her problem. Renee would be furious to discover those
unscreened calls, but that would be the least of her worries once she confronted Mrs. B.
By 11:30, Miriam‟s thoughts had turned to P Street. It might as well be across town for
all the hope she had of getting there and back during her lunch break. Miriam knew that
Cass rarely went to lunch at noon when the Deputy Director was in high gear, as that
meant an extended morning of dictation. Her tête-à-têtes with the girls at the
Kramerkeller had been possible only on days when her boss was out of the office or in
conference with the Director or grantees. Otherwise Mrs. B watched her secretary like a
hawk. As long as Miriam sat at Cass‟s desk, slipping off to see Calvin would be difficult.
It would have been easier to escape from Renee, who rarely acknowledged her existence.
She must act soon, or he would forget her in the noontime rush of other women. Why not
jump up now, run the two blocks to his apartment and throw herself at him? This scenario
made her pant audibly; fearing Mrs. B would overhear, she controlled herself. She would
not darken the editor‟s door without at least a story outline in hand. Further, she would
keep her dignity as she pitched her idea.
She must hold onto Cass‟s spot a while longer to get her hands on the relevant files. She
had previously compared the successful and unsuccessful applications of Faith Taylor
and Pamela Whittle when she sent out their notification letters. No doubt during the next
few weeks, there would be additional correspondence from both. It was standard
operating procedure for program officers to forward the files of their successful grantees
to Cass, along with any problem rejects, for the Deputy Director‟s perusal. Surely Whittle
would emerge as a problem; she might go public with her complaints, regardless of any
agreement between her and Miriam. There were no files to be found in Cass‟s workspace,
so presumably Mrs. B had the ones of current interest. The thought of sneaking into the
inner office while Old Prune Face was out, combing through the stacks and seizing the
Whittle and Taylor files, put Miriam in another sweat. Could she pull it off?
She would give herself no choice. She would devise an outline so compelling that it cried
out for such research. She picked up one of Cass‟s steno pads, turned to the last page, and
began to scribble. It felt natural to expropriate Cass‟s supplies, as if the missing secretary
were presumed gone for good.
Her first task would be to summarize the qualifications of the grantee Taylor and the
reject Whittle. She made a list of points to compare: degrees earned, teaching positions
held, numbers of scholarly articles published. She knew from her previous research that
the two were virtual equals in these major categories. She made another list of points less
obvious to the naked eye: party affiliations, political connections, involvement in public
What about their inner lives, their long-range aspirations? To probe their minds, she must
interview them. Whittle, at least, would be accessible, if not exactly friendly. Miriam
would try to go in-depth with her, searching for that elusive softer side. Faith Taylor was
more problematic. What excuse could a secretary devise to interview a Peace grantee on
her way to Florence?
She knew that some grantees were invited to visit headquarters before they went
overseas, and were even wined and dined by the Council brass. She made numerous hotel
and restaurant reservations for people she glimpsed but rarely met. It was entirely
possible that Faith Taylor would materialize in this office within a few weeks. How
would she connect with the Texan professor?
Somehow she must present herself as more than a secretary. It‟s part of my job, she might
say, to interview grantees for our files. We like to assess the personalities of people we
place in international posts. So just make yourself comfortable in my tiny cubicle, while I
ask some probing questions. Here, have a cup of watery coffee.
No, that would never work. She could not get away with misrepresenting her job within
earshot of her colleagues. Nor could she hope to befriend a scholar with small talk. A
more elaborate deception would be needed. Maybe she could phone Taylor in Dallas and
pretend to be a reporter for some Council newsletter, assigned to do a fluff piece about
Peace scholars. Later, when Taylor came into the office, Miriam might waylay her with
an offer of lunch at some friendly, inexpensive place.
She would lay in on thick: I know a little hole in the wall just down the street where the
cheeseburgers are cheap, and a glass of wine always eases the conversation. The
proprietors there are friends of mine, so they‟ll take care of us. If you‟re like me, you‟ll
enjoy experiencing a popular Washington nightspot in the light of day, when it seems
forsaken by mankind. I always find that a ripe atmosphere for intimate conversation. So
many wild ideas and alternative life plans have been vetted there. We could discuss the
real motivation behind your trip to Florence.
She plotted further: I‟ll start with the softball questions, like what made you decide to
become a Peace scholar? What do you hope to accomplish overseas? Gradually I‟ll probe
deeper: what will you do with yourself when you‟re not teaching? Are you interested in
the political situation in Italy? What about your political interests at home? Do they
relate? What special activities have you engaged in that might have attracted you to the
Council, or vice versa? Why do you suppose the powers that be picked you and ignored
somebody else equally qualified? How would you like to meet that person?
That would be the moment when Pamela Whittle burst in, having been instructed in
advance to do so. The two professors would sit opposite each other and air their
differences, while Miriam kept the wine flowing and recorded details of the inevitable
explosion. The dialogue alone would make a bang-up article. Miriam smiled at the power
of her imagination to manipulate these people as if they had no wills of their own. If she
could realize fifty percent of this fantasy, she would have a story.
But first she must determine whether Taylor was expected in Washington, and when. She
paused in her scribbling and turned to the front of the steno pad, noticing that it was
labeled “letters to grantees.” She flipped through the pages in search of a clue, amazed
that she could make out Cass‟s stenography reasonably well. For the first time, she felt
thankful to her mother for forcing her to take a full range of secretarial courses in high
school. She came upon an apparent form letter dictated last Friday, an invitation to a
going-away luncheon to be held at the Palm Tree Restaurant at Council expense. What
kind of boondoggle was this? There was no indication whether this letter had been sent
out as yet, or to whom.
“I didn‟t know you were a stenographer, Miriam.”
The snoop froze in the act. How did that pear-shaped woman manage to sneak up on her
employees? As soon as Miriam could move, she closed the steno pad and eyed the
Deputy Director like a busy person interrupted in the midst of legitimate business. “Yes,
I‟m a stenographer, or at least I used to be. I just wanted to see if I could still do it.”
Again she had hit a congenial note with Mrs. B. “That‟s not a bad idea. In fact, that could
be very helpful to your career. Why don‟t you see if you can decipher the last letter Cass
took downthe luncheon letter. Since she isn‟t here, I‟d like you to type it up in draft
and let me see how it looks. We should get it out by close of business.”
“Who‟s it going to?” Miriam managed to ask as the woman turned away. “Every
“No, not every grantee. I‟ll give you the list this afternoon. And remember, I need to see
Renee as soon as she arrives.” The Deputy Director stormed into her office as if to warn
Miriam off prying.
Gotta keep a poker face around Old Prune Face, Miriam reminded herself. Don‟t let on
you think there‟s anything odd about her wining and dining some grantees and not others.
I think the woman‟s deliberately screwing with my mind. She zaps me with this new
chore and hints it could lead to a promotion, but keeps it basically menial. She seems to
know it requires just enough concentration to divert me from thoughts of politics and sex.
At noontime Miriam still awaited word from the missing persons. When the phone rang,
she expected to hear the breathless Renee begging further indulgence, having succumbed
to a nooner with the Director. But it was Cass whose voice blasted Miriam‟s ear as if she
had been running. “Oh, Miriam, are you covering for me? I hope you don‟t mind doing it
a while longer. I won‟t be in at all today. Would you believe I‟m calling from the Post
newsroom? And that they want me to stay all day and learn the ropes?”
“I believe it,” said Miriam uncertainly.
“You must have guessed my big news already. I‟d just as soon tell you first, since you‟ve
always nagged me to go after my dream. I won‟t be coming back to the Council, except
to pick up my things and give notice. I know this is sudden, but everything has happened
so fast. I was interviewed by this wonderful lady editor, took a typing and shorthand test,
and was hired, just like that.”
“Cass, that‟s great. I‟m so happy for you.” Miriam tried to feel it. “Don‟t you want to tell
Mrs. B?”
“No, not over the phone. That would be so cold, especially since it‟s such short notice.
I‟ll be in tomorrow and tell her in person. She‟ll be a little shocked, I‟m afraid.”
“Afraid is the right word,” said Miriam. “I‟ve got to try to decipher one of your shorthand
letters for her, and I‟m afraid it might be too much for me. She wants it right away, so
I‟m plugging away at it.”
“Oh, Miriam, it‟s a great opportunity for you. If you can please Mrs. B, you‟ll go places.
See where I‟ve gotten just from being a good secretary? This lady I‟ll be working for is
involved in lots of exciting stories. She says she‟s bowled over by my skills. Can you
believe that? This is so close to what I dreamed about.”
Miriam barely had time to comprehend such ecstasy before Cass rushed on with her life.
“Listen, hon, we‟ll talk more when I drop by tomorrow. Right now I need you to transfer
me to Sally, so I can arrange to meet her and the others at the Palm Tree tonight. We‟re
having an early dinner there before the game.”
“Of course. A five-course dinner, followed by the biggest game of the season. What a
perfect evening.” Miriam made the transfer and slumped in her chair, overwhelmed by
the events happening to other people. She straightened up as soon as Mrs. B reappeared.
“Isn‟t Renee here yet?”
God, the woman‟s obsessed, thought Miriam. Her secretary‟s whereabouts are the last
thing on her mind. “Sorry, I haven‟t seen Renee yet.”
“Call her at home again,” snapped the Deputy Director. “No, never mind, I‟ll do it. I‟ll
leave her a message.” She turned on her heel, and Miriam wondered what was to keep
Renee‟s husband from hearing a message intended for his missing wife.
There was no time to ponder her supervisor‟s fate, with the unfamiliar task in front of her.
She determined to keep at it straight through the noon hour. She completed the draft letter
and took it in to Mrs. B shortly after one o‟clock. Then she transferred her phone lines to
Sally for a mere fifteen minutes while she visited the carryout snack bar. She brought
back a pressed turkey sandwich and devoured it at “her” desk, accompanied by gulps of
coffee, while she got a head start on deciphering the other letters in Cass‟s notebook.
When Mrs. B‟s outside line rang, she picked it up eagerly. Unlike her own lines, which
bombarded her with crabby scholars, this one seemed to bring intrigue. Renee‟s voice
sounded inebriated and incautious. “Miriam, it‟s you again. Would you please let Mrs.
Broadwater know I‟m still a little under the weather. I thought I could make it in today
but I can‟t.”
“If you say so.” Miriam cringed at that casual tone, which presumed on her naivety.
Renee had said nothing earlier about being ill. Her secretary detected voices and clinking
glasses in the background. Under the weather, shit. Miriam pictured it allRenee and her
esteemed lover at an outdoor cafe, reveling in a hearty lunch after their morning
“meeting.” Maybe they had found a cozy spot in Georgetown, awash in the bright early
autumn sun and far from prying Council eyes.
“Don‟t you want to talk to Mrs. Broadwater? She‟s in her office.”
“God, no,” exclaimed Renee. “Tomorrow will be soon enough. Just give her the message,
will you? And there‟s someone else I need to talk to, but damned if I can think who it is.”
“I‟ll bet it‟s Sally. You and your husband will want to meet her and her party at the Palm
Tree tonight, before the game.”
“Goodness, Miriam, you‟re on the ball today. How did you know that?”
“Oh, I‟m just trying to keep on top of everything.” Like a good secretary‟s supposed to,
Miriam added silently. I may not be in Sally‟s party myself, but I‟m damned near
coordinating it.
“I presume Director Wrightman will be there toowith his wife?” ventured Miriam.
“Yes, I presume that too. Just transfer me to Sally, will you?”
“Have fun,” said Miriam under her breath. If Renee hadn‟t been so short with her,
perhaps Miriam would have been moved to warn her about the incriminating message on
her answering machine. She returned to Cass‟s notebooks, far too busy to mix further in
other people‟s lives. Within an hour Mrs. B handed her a marked-up version of the letter
she had transcribed and a list of six scholars who would receive it. A swift glance at the
list confirmed Miriam‟s hopes. Faith Taylor would arrive here in two weeks if she
accepted this all-expenses-paid detour to Washingtonand why shouldn‟t she? Miriam
wasted no time printing out the letters for Mrs. B‟s signature. She put them in the mail
before close of business.
As she left the office that evening after her productive day, deflation set in. The progress
she had made at work had not transformed her personal life. The streets and buildings
glowed with an excitement separate from her. A vibrant dusk fell, dogging her steps
instead of energizing them. It was Monday Night Football night in Washington, an
incomparable time for a city with an undefeated team, and Miriam was going home to an
empty apartment.
She had ignored the buildup in the office, where colleagues who were going to the game
had talked it up all day. She sensed a similar feeling among the non-ticketed masses on
the streets. It seemed that the anticipation was universal, felt even by those who were not
going. She tried to immerse herself in the undercurrents of excitement that propelled her
subway train out of the city. Her fellow commuters seemed to believe that they, too,
could be transported to football heaven. They would find a semblance of this at home in
front of the TV, or in the suburban drinking establishments. Strangers bonded with
strangers in a wartime spirit, as if the rogue nation Texas had roared into town and
threatened the established order.
A carnival spirit took hold. The train shot out of the tunnel at Union Station, rocked from
side to side as it climbed skyward, and trembled high above Rhode Island Avenue like a
roller coaster. Miriam looked to the southeast, the general direction of Boxley Stadium,
as if to coax it out of the hazy landscape. Her vision was obscured by trees, water towers
and apartment complexes, but still the skyline pulsated.
She exited the subway at Georgia Avenue in Maryland and trudged the half mile to her
apartment, losing buoyancy with every step. That air of martial romance which had
propelled her through the subway system could not be sustained on her own. To get it
back, she would have to find a crowd somewhere. At home she fixed a grilled cheese and
lettuce sandwich, her usual light supper before a possible evening out. She ate from a tray
in front of the TV while flipping through the remote dial. Every local channel featured a
report on early tailgate parties at the stadium, as well as the crowds beginning to gather at
sports-oriented nightspots throughout the area.
She caught a glimpse of a neighborhood establishment, the optimistically named
Championship Pub in Silver Spring. Two hours before kickoff, a horde of numbskulls
was well on the road to inebriation. Men and women alike pounded the bar, doused one
another with beer, and made rude noises when asked to analyze the opponent. Miriam
cringed at the thought of joining them, but it would be better than watching the game
Or would it? What could she gain from being a part of the bar scene, so removed from
the real scene? She saw through this crowd as never before. She glimpsed burly guys
with war paint on their faces, filling out numbered jerseys, a substitute for the uniforms
they never had worn. Hanging onto their arms and necks were women who fantasized
about their favorite players but settled for any warm body. They all thought if they
partied hard enough, they could create a stadium atmosphere in these squalid places.
Miriam shook her head as she unwrapped a candy bar for dessert. She wanted no part of
such a mass delusion. “Fuck Dallas,” screamed one of the fools before the broadcast
terminated. Such profound commentary, scoffed Miriam as she exercised her jaws on the
Having decided not to go out, Miriam tried to live with the decision. She settled down
with the Post, which always seemed stale when she read it at night. I‟d rather concentrate
on the game without distractions, she assured herself. That‟s the way to pick up all the
nuances. Tomorrow I can review it play by play with Cass, who‟ll probably spend most
of her time peering through binoculars at the facial expressions of her hero Larry
Longford. Why should I spend the evening fighting off guys who can‟t discuss the game
intelligently, who just use it as a backdrop for their gross propositions? I only go to those
places for the ambience, not for pickups, but try explaining that to the creeps.
Her internal argument intensified as silence penetrated the apartment. She could hear the
ticks of her watch over the rattle of her newspaper. Where were her neighbors, usually so
noisy? Out partying like everyone else, she supposed. She wondered if middle-class
snobbery had prevented her from getting to know the transient and ethnic folks who lived
around and below her. Too bad she couldn‟t have accompanied them to one of the
neighborhood cantinas. No, that would be worse than the Championship Pub, where at
least the propositions were in English.
She considered heading back downtown to one of the bigger nightclubs on Eighteenth or
Nineteenth Street, where the creeps tended to be more sophisticated. But the thought of
such an excursion into uncharted territory made her weary. The one friendly place she
knew down there, the Kramerkeller, considered itself a music club and disdained
televised sports. Immobilized by indecision, Miriam stewed helplessly.
At times like this she longed for Jeff, as she never had when he was within her grasp.
Maybe she had been too hasty in letting him go, just because he was hopeless as a
husband. So what if he didn‟t always show up for dinner, as long as he entertained her
with his wit and made decent love on occasion? What more could you expect from
marriage these days? It was too late to reclaim him, since he had wasted no time
remarrying. She had heard from Bob, a co-worker of his at the National Archives, that
Celia was an aggressive type who kept him on a much shorter leash than Miriam had.
The one time he had called, three months ago on her birthday, he had skirted the domestic
Why couldn‟t she have handled him as this other woman did? An uncontrollable husband
must be the fault of a weak wife. Once she hit on this weakness theme, she pounded it
into the ground. Why hadn‟t she insinuated herself into Sally‟s good graces despite the
Whisperer‟s bitchiness? At the moment she couldn‟t remember what in hell they had
argued about. Why had she let Calvin off the hook Friday night? A tough woman would
have pushed both her story and her charms. Why hadn‟t she thrown Whittle‟s drink in her
face instead of drinking it herself?
Why, in short, couldn‟t she be more of a bitch like everyone else? Only her parents
appreciated her insufferable niceness; they must have taught her unconsciously that the
meek shall inherit the earth. Good God, she thought, now I‟m quoting the good book.
That does it, I‟m going out to hit the sleaziest bar I can find.
Miriam jumped to her feet, straightened her skirt, grabbed her jacket and made for the
door as if to outrun her doubts, but it was hopeless. She would carry this heaviness of
spirit wherever she went. She tottered at the threshold, the debate raging in her head. Isn‟t
action always better than inaction? No, not if you‟re acting out of desperation. It‟s past
eight, and the game starts at nine. So make a decisionstay or go? Which way will you
hate yourself the least?
Outside the apartment, the air stirred. The blast from a subtle explosion made its way up
the stairs and through the door, rocking her on her feet. At first she recoiled like an
invalid unused to fresh air or noise. But the stomping on the stairs activated her heart, as
if it had beaten perfunctorily all these months. It beat so hard now that she patted it down.
It has to be Jeff, she thought. No one else blasts through the main door like that. My
beloved has returned to rescue me. He‟s taking the stairs two at a time, as if he just broke
out of prison himself. God, I‟ll bet my hair‟s a mess. And my makeup‟s running down
my face.
She opened the door and there he stood with a grin that could melt rock, the look that had
smoothed over many a marital spat. Like her, he still wore his office clothes; he always
had been most impressive in a suit and tie. She could see signs that he had been tamed, in
his clean-shaven face and conservative haircutno headband, no ponytail. “How you
doing?” he inquired. “You look nice in that outfit.”
“Oh, heavens, it‟s just a skirt and blouse I‟ve had on all day,” she panted. “But thanks.”
He peered past her, no doubt searching for evidence of another man. Finding it all clear,
he stepped in and handed her a six-pack of beer. “Why don‟t you stick that in the frig
until game time?”
He knew those words would seduce her. Football and beer had been one of their
traditions. After she did his bidding, she returned to the living room and tossed aside her
jacket, which she had held onto absentmindedly. She shucked off a load of emotional
baggage as she embraced him. His stiffness at first contact told her that he still belonged
to that other woman. The quick loosening of his defenses assured her that he craved his
freedom. Nothing mattered except the warmth of their familiar bodies on a night like this.
Their mouths pressed together and slobbered in their haste to re-stake the territory.
But was she ready for a headlong plunge into adultery? What was he really doing here?
After eight months of almost no contact, a conversation seemed in order. “How come
what‟s-her-name let you out tonight? What kind of a marriage is it?”
Jeff chuckled. “What what‟s-her-name doesn‟t know won‟t hurt her. She got herself
invited to the game.”
“God, how did she manage that? And why didn‟t you get invited too?”
“Her new boss got her a ticketjust one.” Jeff shrugged off the slight.
“Wait a minute. Back up.” Miriam‟s confusion caught up with her. “I thought you and
Celia worked in the same office, for the same boss. At least that‟s what your friend Bob
told me.”
“Bob‟s always a little off when he‟s drinking. Which I assume he was when you saw him,
if it was lunch hour on the Mall.” Again Jeff shrugged, as if details were distasteful. “By
the way, he told me you were still working at the same job.”
“That‟s almost true,” said Miriam, declining to elaborate.
“Celia worked at the Archives, but not in the same office. We met over the Watergate
“How romantic.”
“We got to talking, found we shared some historical interests. We discussed the
possibility of writing a book together, a study of Presidential power. Just before we got
married, she got hired at the White House by some lawyer acquaintance of hers whom
she met during her divorce. Her title is Assistant Director of Correspondence. Doesn‟t
sound like much, but she‟s a go-getter. Trust her to get close to the seat of power sooner
or later.”
“Wow. She sounds like” Miriam feared to make herself puny by comparison. “some
kind of Amazon.”
“A slave driver is what she is. I do a lot of research for her after regular office hours.
That‟s what she thinks I‟m doing now.”
“Oh, Jeff, that‟s tough.” How could she rescue him? Their foreplay took a motherly turn,
as she eased his head onto her lap and stroked it.
“I gotta admit, I admire her in some ways.” Why did he have to say that, when they had
established that Celia was a witch? “She had a rough first marriage. Apparently the guy
beat her up. But she got everything she could out of his hide in the divorce. Her
settlement was hefty enough to buy her a five acre lot in southern Virginia, a nice
weekend hideaway.”
“Oh, I see.” She saw, to her disappointment, that his weekends were taken. Further, it
became clear how Celia had stolen his heart. Jeff always had aspired to own a place in the
country. He also craved a big-time job in Washington. Celia had been farther along in
these dual goals than he was.
“What do you do with yourselves in southern Virginia? Doesn‟t it get a little boring?”
“Oh, we love it.” Jeff glowed at the thought of fresh air and exercise. “Having land can
keep you busy. And there‟s some great hunting down there. She likes to go with me
“Wow, what a woman.” Pangs of envy shot through Miriamunreasonable feelings,
since she had given up Jeff willingly. But she had not expected him to drift so far from
her in eight months. He had become a “we” with someone else, and professed to “love”
parts of this new life. Still, he had yet to say he loved his wife.
“Aren‟t you a little afraid of a woman who knows how to use a gun? You‟re not used to
“That‟s right, I‟m not.” Jeff maintained his neutrality against any temptation to compare
his two wives. But Miriam kept up the prodding.
“Bob told me her temper is legendary. He started calling her the Empress after she tried
to get him fired from the Archives.”
“Yeah, well, Bob thinks he‟s the Emperor of the Mall at lunchtime. That‟s when he does
his maintenance drinking to get him through the rest of the day. He would‟ve been fired
long ago if he wasn‟t screwing his supervisor.”
They disentangled long enough to prepare the scene for their own affair. Jeff went to the
refrigerator to get two beers, and Miriam called out to him to grab a bag of pretzels from
the cabinet. She turned on the TV to find kickoff time at hand.
“Another thing Bob said was, he‟s sure I‟ll end up being your favorite wife.” Miriam‟s
tongue stayed loose as the beer flowed. “Apparently he has no idea of my own legendary
temper. He doesn‟t know how many dinners used to end up on the wall over there.”
Jeff glanced at the off-white wall that had held those splatters. “I guess I‟ve always liked
to live dangerously. But something tells me I upped the stakes with this marriage.”
“What‟re you saying? You think she‟s dangerous?” panted Miriam.
“She‟s temperamental, and she knows how to shoot. Draw your own conclusions.”
They embraced more passionately than ever before, as if danger lurked in the corners.
Against the roar of the crowd at Boxley Stadium, they shucked off their office clothes
and fell onto the couch. Their lovemaking accompanied a slow-moving game that
consisted of one stymied scoring drive after another. The Redskins offense, led by Larry
Longford, resembled an army stuck in a field of mud. A similar inertia affected the
Cowboys. The fans at the stadium, like those at home, found ingenious ways to vent their
A normal crowd would have reflected the stupor on the field, but this one had a will of its
own. Boos cascaded from the stands like jungle cries. Everywhere the TV cameras
probed, fans danced and stomped and hung perilously over the rails. Some tried to seize
the spotlight by disrobing or performing other lewd acts. A low-grade insanity reigned, as
if this crowd believed it could manufacture victory.
The insanity became more pronounced. When the President arrived at the owner‟s box,
midway through the second quarter, boos assaulted him. The two despots, Bailey and
Boxley, seemed content with their ally Larry Longford at quarterback. They sat well
above the fray, the picture of inflexibility and stagnation, while the rebellious crowd fired
up the night.
The team lurched toward a climax. With three minutes left in the half, a long punt return
set up by a lateral pass put them in their best position yet, on the Cowboys‟ 30-yard line.
Rocky Rudman, hardly a razzle-dazzle head coach, gave his assistants the evil eye. Who
had dreamed up that circus trick? The coaches shrugged collectively toward the field, the
only place where improvisation seemed possible.
“Old Larry better strike while the iron is hot,” panted Jeff.
“Us too,” returned Miriam.
The couple consummated the act with flair, and waited for their efforts to be rewarded
with a touchdown. A time out on the field gave them an opportunity to recover and prop
themselves up on the couch pillows. When the Redskins returned to action, they
responded with two running plays and a short pass that left them stewing on the 22.
“They oughta dump Longford,” muttered Jeff. “It‟s only the defense that‟s saved his ass
so far.”
“They won‟t dump him,” said Miriam, “not with his political connections. He‟ll be in
there forever as long as that Texas cabal controls everything.”
“That‟s a new angle. Where‟d you pick that up?”
Miriam was startled to have mouthed the wisdom of another man. Should she tell Jeff
about Calvin? No, there was nothing to tellnot yet.
The TV commentators, finding little on the field to inspire eloquence, kept talking up
their acquaintance with the VIPs in the owner‟s box. All three reminisced about past
chats with the President and the Redskins‟ owner. They noted Longford‟s friendship with
both men, and saw nothing sinister in it. But as the boos intensified, even the Pollyannas
in the broadcast booth admitted that the powers that be looked ruffled.
The Redskins took a time out to ponder their fourth down strategy. Miriam and Jeff took
a time out to gulp their second beers and handfuls of pretzels, and debate high-risk versus
conservative strategy. Nothing‟s changed, thought Miriam. We always could discuss
impersonal issues with the utmost intensity. When the game resumed, the Redskins had
opted for the field goal attempta sensible decision, according to two out of three
commentators. But the crowd, in no mood for moderation, stopped the show.
“What‟s happening?” The eternally steady voice of the play-by-play announcer jumped
an octave. “Good grief, the owner‟s box is under attack. Can you see what‟s going on,
“Looks like the crowd‟s trying to smash right through the roof. Boxley and Bailey could
be in danger. Is this an assassination attempt?”
“Oh, c‟mon, it‟s just a few drunks acting up. What‟s the Secret Service for, anyway?
They‟ll take care of it.”
The network chose to highlight the efficient work of the authorities rather than give the
fans undue attention. By the time the cameras caught them, three or four rowdies had
been hauled off the roof of the owner‟s box and hustled through the nearest exit. Then the
Secret Service and the stadium police set about pacifying the area where they believed
the disturbance had originated. They showed little hesitation to stomp on toes and throw
elbows at anyone in their way. Several fans shouted protests, and one or two shoved
“Celia‟s supposed to be somewhere in that section,” remarked Jeff. He squinted
nervously at the TV, while the commentators fulminated.
“This is turning into an ugly situation, and it‟s a real shame. Boxley Stadium fans have
been noted for their class and sophistication all through their history. This isn‟t their
proudest moment, that‟s for sure.”
“This isn‟t the proudest moment for the Secret Service either. I mean, what are they, the
KGB? They should know how to do their job without manhandling fans who had nothing
to do with the disturbance.”
“Or woman-handling them. I think I just saw a lady take a punch at one of them. Can we
get a replay of that, boys? I don‟t think he‟ll mess with her again.”
“Shit,” exclaimed Jeff, “that‟s Celia.”
“Oh, my God. That‟s really her?” Miriam caught a glimpse of a hefty woman with short,
frizzy hair, engaged in a heated defense of her civil rights. The authority who confronted
her screaming face and beefy arms showed signs of backing down, but she wasn‟t
through with him.
“She‟s nothing like I expected.” Miriam wondered what had happened to Jeff‟s taste.
Most men did not trade in their first wives for a more dilapidated model. It struck her that
Celia must be several years older than Jeff, perhaps in her mid-thirties; a mother figure,
no doubt. What else could Jeff see in her?
Offended by his choice, Miriam tried to hit on the missing link between herself and Celia.
What if I let myself go like that? Maybe my years of grooming and self-control have been
a waste. I would look like her if I got a short permanent and just let it grow out, hit the
beer and pretzels every night, and screamed at everybody in my way. But I didn‟t know
that was Jeff‟s ideal. I‟ll bet she‟s a decent cook too, judging by her girth and that
beginning paunch of Jeff‟s. God, remember how skinny we both used to be when the
microwave was our life support?
“I guess you didn‟t marry her for her looks, did you?” Miriam startled herself with that
“I never said I did.” Now it was Jeff‟s turn to be offended.
“Sorry,” said Miriam. “That was mean of me.” She could woo him, perhaps, by
complimenting his wife. “I‟m sure she‟s got all kinds of admirable qualities.”
“I told you the best thing about her. She‟s a woman who knows where she‟s headed.”
“Looks like she might be headed straight to federal prison.”
Jeff laughed. “I sincerely doubt that. If that guy makes a move to arrest her, she‟ll flash
her White House credentials and try to have his ass canned.”
Since the requested replay was not forthcoming, Celia‟s fifteen seconds of fame were
over. With difficulty, the TV commentators shifted back to the gridiron.
“Looks like it‟s show time for placekicker Rafael Garcia. He‟s been perfect from inside
the 40 all season, but this is perhaps the most pressure the youngster‟s ever faced. As if
the national spotlight wasn‟t enough, he‟s had to keep himself calm and focused during
this unscheduled delay.”
“Well, this fellow knows how to do just that. He‟s been bantering with his teammates the
whole time. That loose style reminds me of one of his most illustrious predecessors,
Calvin Martinez.”
“Oh, jeez. I hope young Rafael doesn‟t feel the need to emulate Calvin in everything. He
was a great kicker for sure, but really a divisive influence on the team. Old Cal‟s here
tonight, by the way. At least, I thought I glimpsed him somewhere behind the owner‟s
box during the brawl.”
Young Rafael proved his mettle by making the 37-yard kick. Seconds later, the vigilant
camera caught his mentor in the crowd. Miriam could not restrain a gasp. That maniacal
grin, those muscular, glistening arms, could put her in a sweat any time. Calvin held court
near the area where trouble had broken out, but looked comfortably ensconced in his seat,
manipulating an oversized beer with one hand and a young woman‟s thigh with the other.
His two-year-old son ran into the picture, pulled on his arm and made him spill his beer.
He paused to kiss the boy on the forehead, then continued jawing with passersby.
“What‟re you staring at?” demanded Jeff. “I‟m over here.”
Miriam flushed. “Oh, sorry. I was just remembering this encounter I had with Calvin
Martinez last Friday night at the Kramerkeller.”
“Where the elite meet.” Jeff sounded disdainful, as if he had forgotten how much he used
to like that club. “Old Cal must have impressed you as quite a stud. But from what I‟ve
heard, he‟s a flaming radical. What did he talk to you about?”
“Right-wing conspiracies, of course.” Miriam refused to laugh off this notion for Jeff‟s
benefit. She had a right to a serious conversation with another man.
“All I hope is that Celia doesn‟t get anywhere near him,” said Jeff. “She might knock his
block off. She‟s totally devoted to President Bailey.”
“If she‟s in love with Bailey, she must be part of the right-wing conspiracy herself.”
Miriam considered this possibility. She had just slept with the husband of a woman who
was a low-level flunky in the White House, but ambitious and certain to rise. If Miriam
went on sleeping with Jeff, and Celia continued to advance, might Miriam become an
infiltrator? Maybe she would grow so adept at this pillow talk that tidbits from the enemy
camp would fall into her lap, prime and juicy enough to pass on to Calvin. But what if
Jeff proved to be a two-way conduit? She must watch what she revealed about her liberal
Halftime arrived with the Redskins ahead 3-0 in a “classic defensive struggle,” the
commentators‟ euphemism for a dull game. Miriam and Jeff filled the interlude with
eating, drinking and further revelations. Miriam learned that Celia had an eight-year-old
daughter who split time between her parents. The idea of Jeff as a stepfather could not be
absorbed all at once; she would grapple with it later. By the time the Redskins and
Cowboys went at each other again, Miriam and Jeff were equally ready.
Their second encounter proved more intense and sustained than their first. The sense of
danger had been heightened by those sightings in the stadium crowd, the revival of the
enemy on the field, and their own recklessness. While the Cowboys quarterback began to
engineer long gains, strutting his youthful legs and strong arm, Miriam calculated her
chances of pregnancy. Odd how she and Jeff had taken all possible precautions against
such a mischance during their marriage, only to abandon caution now. With her quick
arithmetic she assured herself that they were probably safe.
Before anyone knew what was happening, the Cowboys had scored a touchdown and led
7-3. The general reaction was shock, as if some natural disaster had occurred. The TV
commentators put the onus on Larry Longford to strike back quickly.
“It just doesn‟t seem possible with Longford, boys. I mean, look at the old trouper. He‟s a
fighter for sure, but he limps even before he gets to the huddle.”
“I don‟t care how much he limps getting to the huddle. He‟s still the master inside it.
Longford‟s game has never depended on physical skill. He does it with his mind.”
“His mind and his heart. I know how many unlikely victories the guy has pulled out over
the years. But there comes a time when all the heart in the world can‟t overcome a
superior opponent.”
Despite the skeptics, Longford began to mount a scoring drive. It was a halting effort,
built on short passes and bursts of running, but it covered ground. By fits and starts, the
Redskins crossed the 50-yard line. Then Longford unleashed his longest pass of the night,
a 15-yard bomb that put the team on the 35.
Now conditions looked ripe for a quick strike. The crowd at Boxley shook off its funk
and roared for blood. The secondary crowd, represented by Miriam and Jeff, quickened
its pace accordingly. Fans everywhere prepared to seize the moment when triumph would
rise from adversity. Such moments had occurred in both previous games this season. It
was Longford‟s style to stare down imminent defeat with a shrug or snarl, although he
rarely faced defensive backs as fast and fearsome as these Cowboys.
Longford barked his instructions in the huddle, then dispersed his troops with the
characteristic pumped fist and shout of “Go!” He limped toward the center, his
mind-over-matter attitude evident in his searing gaze. As he yelled out the signals, extra
Cowboys materialized at the line. “Blitz!” warned the crowd, but nothing could hold back
the tide. As the ball reached Longford‟s hands, his line caved. He went down underneath
two backs who both looked twice his size. He writhed in pain on the 42-yard line.
Two out of three TV commentators, watching Longford‟s struggle to regain his feet,
pronounced him out of the game. The third declared that he would rise like the Phoenix.
A similar division rocked the stadium, where the jeers for the quarterback outnumbered
the cheers. The issued divided Miriam and Jeff momentarily. “It‟s time they got out the
stretcher for that guy,” opined Jeff. “But his whole career has been comebacks,” argued
Miriam, echoing Cass.
Miriam could only imagine what Cass must be going through at this moment, with her
hero lying on the turf and two-thirds of the crowd yelling for him to stay down. It brought
to mind that pre-season game last month, when Cass had been unnerved by the crowd.
This one had to be worse, a full-fledged monster with teeth. Miriam glanced past Jeff‟s
shoulder at the TV, half expecting to see an impassioned Cass shouting down a section of
louts. Instead the cameras shifted to the sideline where Pete Spencer had removed his
jacket and begun to warm up his arm. He fired several practice passes at the trainer, his
face aglow with expectation.
Within seconds the crowd had become aware of the sideshow. Cries of “We want Pete”
rose in isolation, began to acquire a rhythm, and finally fanned out in a universal chant.
The man on the turf, always inspired by taunts, staggered to his feet. He took charge of
another huddle, and dispersed it with his usual pumped fist and shout.
“He‟ll be crippled after this play,” grunted Jeff. Miriam was taken aback by such
untimely pessimism. “He‟ll be okay,” she retorted. She felt somewhat vindicated when
Longford withstood the next blitz long enough to complete a pass and regain the ground
lost on the previous play. All that effort, reflected Miriam, just to stay in the same place.
On the third down play, a “do or die” moment according to the TV commentators, no one
was shocked to see the blitz come a third time. More surprising was Longford‟s reaction.
Somehow the line held for him as he lumbered to his left and unleashed a floater that fell
into the hands of a receiver on the 26. His tormentors went silent for four or five seconds,
until the situation became clear: he had needed ten yards for a first down and had gotten
nine. They howled again, a pack of pit bulls.
The extremism of the spectators infected the broadcast booth. The voices of the
commentators sounded as labored as Miriam and Jeff‟s. “Wow, I can‟t believe it. Looks
like they‟re gonna take a time-out and mull this thing over like before. We know Rocky
Rudman is a conservative coach, and once he starts thinking he makes conservative
decisions. One too many of those, and the fans‟ll take this place apart.”
“Now, boys, let‟s keep our shirts on. The fans‟re just letting off steam. I‟d like to think
that ultimately they respect the coach and quarterback who‟ve given them so many
victories over the last five years.”
“I dunno about that. Winning a lot of games without winning championships gets to feel
hollow after a while. Y‟know, ordinarily I‟d agree with you that the fans understand the
ins and outs of strategy. But this is a Washington crowd, and everything‟s so political
here. This isn‟t just a football game we‟re watching tonightit‟s a little war.”
The other commentators grappled with this hyperbole, as the field goal unit took the field
and boos wracked the stadium. They insisted that any crowd would be upset with a team
that couldn‟t score a touchdown. But the political philosopher persisted, giving the fans
credit for a sophistication equal to his own. Their boos indicated an awareness that the
unholy combine represented by Boxley and Bailey had a stranglehold on everything and
must be overthrown.
“Total bullshit. He sounds like your friend Calvin Martinez,” panted Jeff in Miriam‟s ear.
“Don‟t worry. He‟ll probably be canned for spouting off,” said Miriam.
Young Garcia kicked the field goal that brought his team to within one point, at 7-6. This
accomplishment was overshadowed by the spectacle that unfolded on the sideline. Larry
Longford limped off the field, shaking his head as if to dislodge a fog. He removed his
helmet, took a deep breath, and approached Pete Spencer with a grimace. The younger
quarterback continued to warm up with his helmet halfway on, seemingly oblivious to
Longford‟s presence.
The older quarterback paused to study his likely replacement. His pained look gave way
to a smile of resignation. He put his right hand on Spencer‟s shoulder, a conciliatory
gesture in the name of sportsmanship. “Now, that takes a real man,” exclaimed the
optimistic play-by-play announcer.
The hand stayed on the shoulder and tightened. It spun Spencer around. The other hand
shot out, grabbed the face mask and yanked the helmet off. As Spencer sputtered an
obscenity, Longford reared back with his right fist. Spencer threw up an arm to fend him
off. One hard shove from the younger man, and Longford went down.
The thunderstruck broadcasters provided no instant analysis. Coaches, trainers and
equipment personnel threw themselves between the two quarterbacks to diffuse a fight
that never materialized. In his effort to rise, Longford collapsed on his side, holding his
right leg. After a moment he let go of the leg and sprawled on his back, unconscious. Pete
Spencer gesticulated over his fallen rival and talked emphatically to everyone in the
vicinity. He spread his arms over Longford like a faith healer, but to no effect. Finally he
waved the scene away and walked back to his warm-up position.
The lull on the airwaves ended with a bang. Two out of three announcers maintained that
scuffles like this were a commonplace occurrence on every team. But the glare of the
national spotlight tended to weaken that “boys will be boys” theory. As they talked it up,
the incident took on lurid and symbolic proportions. Pete Spencer seemed to have
provoked the attack by strutting on the sidelines like a peacock. No doubt he had
defended himself instinctively, and could hardly be blamed for the collapse of his rival,
who must have expended his life‟s blood on the field. All signs pointed to a concussion
suffered at some indeterminate point in the game, its immediate effects masked by
adrenaline. His scoring drive, and even his subsequent bizarre behavior, now appeared
almost superhuman. A blow like that, claimed one commentator who knew from
experience, could make you unaccountable for actions both brilliant and idiotic.
The announcers debated whether Longford‟s demise was temporary or permanent. Once
the quarterback had been down for five minutes, they inclined toward a benediction.
They warmed up to this, only to be cut off in mid-phrase. The commercial break,
untimely though it seemed, permitted Miriam and Jeff to climax on their own. Afterward,
they sat back and took stock again.
“There‟s something fishy about this,” said Miriam, frowning at the TV.
“What‟re you talking about?”
How could she explain? Usually when she felt separated from the action at crucial
moments like this, she blamed only herself. Now, as the network rolled out commercial
after commercial, she believed a heavy hand had blacked out the scene.
“I‟ll bet it‟s the Boxley-Bailey cabal, pulling the strings at the network. They don‟t want
the country to see what‟s going on right now.”
“You planning a career as Calvin Martinez‟s echo, or what?” asked Jeff.
“So what if I am?” Miriam shot back. “Aren‟t you married to one of Bailey‟s right hand
women?” The idea that they had been seduced by competing parties set them both
When the network returned to the scene at Boxley Stadium after its hiatus, much of the
evening‟s debris had been cleared away. The owner‟s box was empty. Boxley had
descended to the sidelines to reorganize his troops in person, while Bailey had been
whisked away by the Secret Service.
The announcers seemed befuddled by their loss of control over the broadcast. “We do
apologize for the technical difficulties that have prevented us from showing you the
resolution of the situation on the field. We can only attempt to describe the way Larry
Longford rose like Lazarus and walked to the locker room under his own power. He
waved away the stretcher that had been brought out for him. He ignored the teammates
who tried to help him or just offer a word of encouragement. He brushed past his coach,
Rocky Rudman, and even snubbed his owner, Mr. Boxley.”
“All we can say for sure about Longford is that he will return, like MacArthur, but
probably not tonight. The report from the locker room is not too encouraginga definite
concussion, and a possible cracked hip. We‟ll stay on top of that situation for you.”
“Somebody‟s gonna have to stay on top of this crowd, too. We‟ve been advised that the
less said about that, the better. Suffice it to say that while we were away, the place got
pretty fired up.”
As the action resumed, Miriam and Jeff revved themselves up for an unprecedented third
time. They were excited by the quickened pace of the game and the hints of one wiseass
commentator about an earlier conflagration.
“I‟ll bet someone tried to burn Larry Longford in effigy,” said Miriam. “Or better yet, the
“Don‟t you think maybe you‟re taking this „fired up‟ business too literally?”
“You shouldn‟t take a revolution literally?” Miriam laughed at her own hyperbole. But
what else would you call it when a rowdy crowd succeeded in chasing a President back
behind his barricades? How else to describe the energy that infused the Redskins as soon
as Pete Spencer got his chance? As they thundered toward the goal line for a go-ahead
touchdown, the camera caught a look of consternation on their owner‟s face. It seemed he
preferred losing under the old system to winning with new blood.


                    CHAPTER EIGHT: Lateral Promotions

Would the revolutionary fervor of Monday night survive an ordinary workweek? Miriam
arrived at the office on Tuesday morning still throbbing from her evening of passion with
Jeff, her mind full of erotic distractions. As usual, she groaned at the files and papers on
her desk. Again she asked herself, could there be a point to such a mess? This time she
conjured up the voice of Calvin Martinez, hot and heavy in her ear: It‟s a conspiracy.
Your bosses deliberately bombard you with meaningless paper so you won‟t see the
corruption for the trees. Somewhere in that pile is a smoking gun with the President‟s
fingerprints all over it.
Miriam could not get beyond the usual dull sensation generated by these files, the rejects
and routine acceptances. The meaningful files she needed, the possible recruits, were in
Mrs. Broadwater‟s possession. Her only reasonable chance to get her hands on those
would be to park herself at Cass‟s desk for an extended period. She wondered if she had
made a good enough impression yesterday to grab a foothold.
Her intercom line rang like a summons. “Good morning, Miriam,” barked Mrs. B.
“Would you please send Renee down here as soon as she arrives? And get Cass on the
phone. I need to know when she‟s coming in. By this time of morning I should know
where my staff is.”
“I‟ll find out for you.” Miriam paused to steady her voice. “In case Cass doesn‟t come in,
do you want me to sit at her desk again today?”
“I‟ll have to think about that. I‟m glad you‟re so willing, but if Cass is going to be out for
awhile, I might prefer to rotate her position.”
“I see, butI was right in the middle of something yesterday.” Careful, she thought,
don‟t hyperventilate. “I was setting up a luncheon for those six grantees you invited to
Washington. Don‟t you want me to follow through on that? Confirm that they‟re coming
and make all the reservations?”
“If you want to keep that as your project, fine. You can come over here and work on it as
soon as you‟ve located those two.” The phone banged in her ear.
Miriam called the home numbers of Cass and Renee and reached neither. However, these
mysteries did not endure long. As she hung up the phone, an outside line rang. Cass‟s
voice blasted through in spurts of excitement. “Miriam, I‟m at the Post again. They want
me here all day for training. So it looks like I won‟t be coming in today to talk to Mrs. B
about my resignation.”
“Then you better do it right now, on the phone. Don‟t keep the poor woman hanging,”
said Miriam.
“I really wanted to break it to her face to face. But things are so hectic here, I hardly have
time to breathe. Oh, Miriam, this is the greatest opportunity of my life. Theda Baker, the
features editor I told you about? The one who interviewed me yesterday? She‟s just about
the smartest woman I ever met. I‟ve looked at a bunch of her stories in the archives.
She‟s profiled actors, politicians, sports figures, you name it. And you‟ll never guess who
might be in the works next.”
“Maybe I can guess. It must be someone you dream about night and day, judging by the
way you‟re panting like a phone sex operator. It wouldn‟t be a certain quarterback who
made a pathetic fool of himself before a nationwide audience last night?”
“What he did last night was perfectly human. In fact, it was heroic, when you consider
how injured he was. He‟ll come back strong, like he always does. But in the meantime he
needs a sympathetic profile, because he‟s the most misunderstood man in town.”
“Maybe you‟ll get to meet him and tell him how misunderstood you think he is,” said
“If I get to meet him, I‟ll personally apologize for what The Free Paper did to him. I‟ll
tell him I know the photographer who took those embarrassing pictures of him, and that I
bawled her out for it.”
“Listen, before you hyperventilate over Larry, let me transfer you to Mrs. Boh, too
late. Renee just came in. Could you hold for a second? I‟ve got to let her know that Mrs.
B wants to see her right awaydamn, I missed my chance. Renee just went slamming
down the hall. Looks like she might have it out with the boss woman instead of vice
“You seem awfully busy. I better let you go.” Cass sounded smugly confident that no one
could be busier than she.
“Okay, kid. Hope you‟ll do us the honor of a visit one of these days. Maybe if a strange
enough mood hits me, I‟ll break your news to Mrs. B myself. It might be fun to shock
“You‟re kidding, aren‟t you? That would sure make it easier for me, but it might not be
such a good idea for you.”
“I guess not. Maybe I‟ll just start planning your going-away party and wait for her to
As soon as Miriam hung up, she transferred her phones to Sally and strolled down the
hall to the Deputy Director‟s suite. She made herself at home at Cass‟s desk and kept an
eye on Mrs. B‟s door, which remained resolutely shut for twenty minutes. Twice she got
up and went to the coffee pot, which sat on a table in a small recess next to the inner
office. She lingered long enough to detect raised voices, but no screams or stomping. As
catfights went, this one seemed non-violent.
The door burst open before she could move a discreet distance away. Renee shot her a
dirty look on the way out. “Well, good morning to you, too,” said Miriam to the departing
back. Bitch, she thought. Since when is eavesdropping any big deal?
Miriam retreated to Cass‟s desk with her coffee and resumed yesterday‟s task of
deciphering the letters in Cass‟s steno pads. She would look as busy as possible until an
opportunity arose to grab those hot files out of the inner office. An hour later, Mrs.
Broadwater called her in to discuss new work assignments.
Miriam glanced at a stack of folders on a coffee table, but found herself riveted by Mrs.
B‟s steely voice. An instantaneous revolution was to take place, and Miriam would be
given a chance to help implement it. During the next few days, she would type, xerox and
disseminate several new job descriptions, arrange the grantee luncheon and two
going-away parties, and keep the appointment calendar between the Director and Deputy
“So Renee is resigning?” ventured Miriam. If so, the snarl that had passed between them
had been a parting shot for a disloyal secretary. And I deserved it, reflected Miriam,
amazed at what she had helped to bring about. I could have covered for her when she
claimed to be out sick but was really cavorting with the Director. I could have warned her
about that incriminating message on her answering machine. If only she‟d been halfway
decent to me.
“Renee is leaving our immediate office,” confirmed Mrs. B. “She‟s taking a position at
ICA headquartersclose to her husband.”
“Oh. And Cass? I guess you know she‟s leaving too?”
“I know she‟s trying her best to. I could hear the excitement in her voice when I spoke to
her last evening. She sounded on top of the world, not under the weather as she saida
rather transparent lie.”
Miriam quailed at that tone. A poor liar herself, she saw she would have to develop more
clever forms of deception. Could she learn, for instance, to put on a willing front without
being obsequious? “What would you like me to do first? I already sent out the luncheon
invitations. Should I call those six grantees to confirm they‟re coming?”
“That can wait a day or two, until they‟ve had time to receive the letters. I have
something more urgent for you to do right now. Get Director Wrightman‟s secretary on
the phone. Tell her I want to establish a regular schedule of meetings with the Director,
beginning at one o‟clock this afternoon. If that‟s a problem, have her talk to me.”
Miriam returned to Cass‟s desk and continued to work on her new office persona. Her
heart seemed to beat faster than it ever had during the four years she had spent stuck in a
cubicle. Her voice took on the steeliness of Mrs. B as she phoned the Director‟s secretary
and announced the Deputy Director‟s plans for regular meetings. She worked through the
noon hour, munching potato chips and gulping coffee while she typed the paperwork that
would usher in a new regime. She envisioned the speculation and backbiting that would
erupt as soon as these three Announcements of Job Vacancies appeared on the bulletin
board. Sally the Whisperer and Ginny the Giggler, who thrived on rumors, would go into
overdrive. People would rush to apply for the positions in defiance of the general wisdom
that most selections were predetermined by management.
She laughed aloud at the flimsy job description that would land Renee at ICA under her
husband‟s surveillance. She marveled at the perks of the job Renee was vacating,
Program Officer for Western European Programs; those free trips to Paris and London
and other prime spots would make any candidate salivate. She memorized the
requirements for Secretary to the Deputy Director so that she might corner that position
before the other secretaries could make a move.
At one o‟clock, Miriam‟s work frenzy continued unabated. Sally came in and regarded
her strangely. “Miriam, I‟ve just transferred the phones to you, since I‟ve had them all
morning. Ginny, Amelia and I are going out to lunch.”
Great, thought Miriam. Just as well to get rid of that unholy trio while I‟m preparing
these job descriptions. Who knows how Sally will react? Being a Program Assistant for
the past two weeks might have gone to her head. She‟ll probably apply for the Program
Officer post, ignoring the personnel rule that you must serve at least a year at the next
lowest grade level. There must be ways around that.
“Have fun,” she managed. Sally turned on her heel and nearly collided with Director
Wrightman on his way in for his one o‟clock with the Deputy Director. The Director
straightened the vest of his three-piece suit, nodded solemnly to Miriam and Sally, and
proceeded into the lion‟s den.
The door remained shut until two o‟clock. Miriam‟s constant need for coffee refills
allowed her to monitor the tone of the discussion. There was nothing to hear at first
except businesslike murmurs. Toward the end of the hour a flair-up occurred, as
Wrightman raised his voice. “Try not to be so damned obvious,” was all Miriam could
The door opened, and Miriam juggled the coffee pot. As she steadied the hot bowl in the
palm of her hand, she emitted a scream. So much for subtle eavesdropping. She had
caught the eye of the Director, who turned his gaze on her for several agonizing seconds.
She never had seen such a scowl on those Roman emperor‟s features. Goddamn, she
thought, what‟ll I say to the man if he accuses me of spying?
As she wracked her brain for an excuse, he softened his gaze. She detected a smile at the
corners of his mouth as he jerked his head toward the battleground he had just left. “I
understand you‟re arranging a luncheon for a few select grantees.”
“Well, yes. That‟s what I‟ve been instructed to do.” Miriam replaced the coffee pot and
flexed her hand. Did he think she was involved in this plot of Mrs. B‟s to favor “select”
grantees? Was he involved in the plot himself, or did he intend to blow it open? Should
she let him know she smelled something fishy too?
“We‟ve decided, for reasons of economy, to combine that event with the two going-away
parties you‟re also planning.” The inkling of friendliness dissipated as the strain
reappeared. “I presume you know the time and place.”
“Yes, sir. Friday, October fourteenth, at the Palm Tree restaurant.”
She was confirming this to his departing back. He exited with a measured stride,
straightening his necktie as if he had fought his way out. Miriam could not decide if he
were friend or foe. Had she only imagined that they had locked eyes for a significant
moment? That they had recognized each other as oppressed beings in the thrall of a
tyrant? Such a moment might never occur again. She supposed he could make a career of
blinking at his Deputy‟s underhanded designs, merely chiding her not to be “so obvious.”
While Miriam ruminated, Mrs. B walked out and froze her at the coffee pot. “So you
talked to the Director? Were his instructions clear?”
“Oh, yes.” Miriam wondered at that tone. Did the woman think she had flirted with the
Director? Mrs. B‟s gaze was so accusatory that Miriam chuckled at the flattery.
“You better get on with it, then. Reservations for a party of twenty-five at the Palm Tree
for eleven-thirty on the fourteenth. The restaurant can arrange it any way they see fit,
except for one thing. I want a large table reserved for our out of town guests, and our
honorees: a table for twelve, with some privacy.”
“I understand.” Miriam felt as if she had been taken into the plot. Miraculously, Old
Prune Face smiled.
“I do appreciate the extra work you‟re doing, Miriam, while we‟re shorthanded like this.
I‟ve been meaning to thank you.”
“Oh, my pleasure,” gasped Miriam. The Deputy Director turned and stomped away
before Miriam could grow effusive in her willingness. She found herself alone, with a
clear shot at the coveted files that must still be sitting on Mrs. B‟s tablebut now she
was disarmed by that unexpected niceness. Ridiculous, she told herself. That woman
throws out an occasional compliment just to keep me in line, and it works.
Miriam determined to stroll into Mrs. B‟s office and swoop up the small pile as casually
as if she had been ordered to do so. What could be the harm in grabbing the files of these
grantees, when at least some of them must be the very invitees she had offered to call?
After doing the deed, she returned to her desk, hugging the files against her pounding
heart. She examined the three unnaturally thin and three normal-sized folders: three
apparent recruits, plus three legitimate grantees.
A closer look at the regular files did nothing to calm her heart. She held in her hands the
papers of Dr. Philip Weston, the man she had nicknamed the “raging reject” on that
occasion when he had nearly blown her away on the phone. She had passed that lethal
call on to Jocelyn, who had opted for the explosion. What had this man done since then to
sweeten his reputation at the Peace Council? What kind of bribe had he paid?
Miriam spent the rest of the week pondering problems like this as she hastened to fulfill
Mrs. B‟s every wish. She spoke on the phone to all six invitees, whose files resided on
her desk; no one questioned her right to peruse his or her credentials. The phone calls
were brief, and yielded few insights. But Dr. Weston‟s charming manner, as he asked to
speak to “that dear lady, Mrs. Broadwater,” left her incredulous.
One of the illegitimate grantees, Keith Randolph, asked to speak to “Elaine.” Miriam had
been perplexed by his application, and especially by the comments of the selection
committee. No attempt had been made to hide his lack of qualifications. Could he be the
proverbial relative, hired to keep him happy or occupied? Sure enough, a closer look at
his personal data revealed that he was married to a Lucy B. Randolph. Miriam surmised
that the “B” stood for Broadwater, and that this was the estranged daughter who had been
whispered about in the office. Lucy seemed to have passed out of her mother‟s
consciousness, judging by the absence of family photos in Mrs. B‟s office. Maybe this
grant meant a rapprochement.
The other two recruits preyed most on Miriam‟s mind. No explanation for their success
was readily available. The political connections, the bribes, the sterling qualifications that
had appealed to the Peace Council screeners, remained secret from Miriam. As she
searched for a common thread, she remembered Pamela Whittle‟s admonition: forget the
politics, just follow the money. She must prove these grants were bought and paid for, or
she‟d have a non-scandal.
The idea of a Peace Fund took shape. She envisioned such a Fund built on bribe
payments, accumulating in a secret bank account somewhere, ready to be tapped for God
knows what purpose. Jocelyn always used to maintain that the government was full of
strong men (and perhaps strong women) whose job descriptions concealed their true
mission: to choke off freedom movements wherever they sprang up at home or abroad.
Miriam felt a sudden longing to talk to her imaginative friend.
She wondered where The Fund, if it existed, might be located. She imagined Mrs. B
strolling casually across the Circle to the bank, perhaps running into several Council
employees who had their savings there, and depositing the bribes. But this seemed as
transparent and risky as concealing a ticking bomb in your desk drawer. A real slush fund
should be stashed away in a Swiss account, untraceable and unreachable except by a
powerful few.
One couldn‟t do such things alone. Mrs. B must have friends in high places backing up
her effortsperhaps in the highest place of all. But the Deputy Director never gave a sign
that she had friends at all. Miriam began to think her research must begin with an
investigation of the woman herself. Anyone so secretive about her personal life must
have something to hide.
On Friday, Miriam came in to work with these notions coursing through her head, only to
be startled by the sight of a thick brown envelope in her “out” box. A label on the
envelope read “For the Courier.” A moment later, when Mrs. B stomped out of her office
to check Miriam‟s time of arrival, the secretary asked her what it was.
“I didn‟t have time to explain this before. Our fiscal office accumulates checks from the
public for various services we provide, such as answering Freedom of Information
requests, xeroxing documents, sending out publications, things of that nature. When the
checks arrive, they go into my office safe. On Fridays, if enough have accumulated, I put
them in an envelope, and Cass calls the bonded courier we usethe number is in her
Rolodexto transport them to the bank.”
“I see,” said Miriam, titillated by the words bank and checks. “What bank is that?”
“National Bank, on Pennsylvania Avenue, where a number of Federal agencies have
So it wasn‟t the neighborhood bank, but one conveniently near both ICA headquarters
and the White House. A much more intimidating institution, if it serviced the Federal
government and bonded certain transactions. Miriam pictured herself trying to wrestle the
envelope from an armed guard.
“You better make that call first thing. I don‟t like to keep checks lying around the office.”
Miriam called and arranged for the usual pickup time of eleven. All morning she eyed the
envelope as if it pulsated with secrets. Periodically it struck her as nothing but a plain
brown envelope which could be ignored for minutes on end. When the courier arrived,
she was seized by an impulse to tear the envelope from his hands and race out of the
office. She would cover the two blocks to Calvin‟s apartment in leaps and bounds,
arriving before “nooner” time but prepared to entertain the editor with possibilities
contained in this envelope. She would explain the supposed innocent nature of the
package, as Mrs. B had; then she would tear it open to expose a ticking bomb or two
among the benign checks. Maybe next week, she sighed, as she watched the courier
Everything had been set for a gala luncheon at the Palm Tree a week from today. Miriam
called the restaurant a second time to confirm that the arrangements were according to
Mrs. B‟s specifications. She had been ordered to invoke the name of Sally‟s husband, a
part owner of the Palm Tree, when she requested to reserve the front half of the main
dining room, plus an area apart for the “special” guests. She received the necessary
assurances that her group would have the run of the place from 11:30 to 2:30 on the
fourteenth of October.
“I‟m sure we‟ll be out of there before two. I know the Puck Cavenaugh show begins
then,” remarked Miriam, barely restraining a snort at mention of the right-wing windbag
who hosted a daily radio show from that site. The friendly woman on the phone
suggested that the Peace Council group, as honored guests, would be welcome to stay and
enjoy the show.
Miriam called the two departed colleagues to request their presence at the restaurant no
later than 11:30 next Friday. She had left messages to that effect at both ICA and the Post
two days ago, but had not caught up with either Cass or Renee. When an outside line rang
at noon, she picked it up hastily.
“Christ, Miriam. You‟re not where I left you in that office. Moving up in the world?”
“Only a little,” laughed Miriam, “so far. How‟re you doing, Jo? All recovered from your
last blowout?”
“Honey, I‟ve barely begun to pick up the pieces. So much has been happening this past
week, I may never recover. I just got off the phone with Calvin Martinez, underground
editor extraordinaire. He told me his September issue has spread like wildfire. It was all
over Boxley stadium Monday night, and everybody was gaping at the front page. He‟s
getting ready to print a second edition, which is unprecedented for The Free Paper.
Looks like your screw-up friend is shaping up to be a famous photographer.”
“Yeah, but I think Larry Longford‟s blowup during the game has made it a bigger deal
than it would have been,” said Miriam, tiptoeing around Jocelyn‟s ego. “Not that your
photographs of him aren‟t impressive, but they‟re also timely. Calvin could start to look
vindictive if he keeps hitting his old teammate when he‟s down.”
“He has reason to be vindictive. Listen to this. Cal called Redskins Park to get a
statement from Longford to put in the second edition. He didn‟t dream the bastard would
call back, much less talk on the record, but he did. First he reminded Cal that he was a
friend of the President. Then he declared that if he had his way, The Free Paper would be
shut down and Cal thrown in jail.”
“That‟s crazy,” said Miriam. “That concussion of his must be worse than anybody
“Longford might have thoughts of murdering Cal when he finds out what he‟s up to in his
October issue. He‟s gonna endorse Pete Spencer‟s girlfriend, that black Councilwoman,
for mayor.”
“Lainie Palmer.” Miriam supplied the name. “That‟ll be fascinating. But the mayor‟s race
is over a year away.”
“I know that, sweetie, but she‟s not a big money candidate so far, and her boyfriend‟s not
making the big bucks yet. So they have to raise some serious cash. That‟s why we‟re
gonna hold the first major fundraiser for Lainie here at the Kramerkeller on November
twenty-first. Calvin will try to put out another issue that night, which shouldn‟t be a
problem by then, the contributions will be flowing. But best of allare you ready for
this?Nichols, Powers and Judd will be here. At least, I plan on them being here. Their
tour goes through Washington that week, and Monday just happens to be their off night.”
“I guess you‟ve been in communication with Nick, and he‟s committed himself to this
fundraiser?” Miriam did not trouble to hide her skepticism.
“I did talk to him on the phone about it.” Jocelyn‟s tone took a plunge, reflecting the
difficulty of pinning down a rock star at long distance. Miriam could imagine how that
conversation had gone: anticipation of a backstage reunion, a few salacious comments,
followed by a quick “Gotta run, baby.”
“I can always arrange it with their manager if it comes down to that,” declared Jocelyn.
“He owes me big time.”
“Oh, he owes you? I‟ll bet you owe him, too.” Here was the familiar turbulence of
Jocelyn‟s life, full of high-risk yet nebulous dealings with men. “And what about Heinz?
Don‟t you owe him something?”
“What‟s Heinz got to do with this?” Reminders of her boyfriend-boss were an irritant.
“This event will help his career too. I‟m doing it for both of us.” Jocelyn ruminated
further, then announced, “No way am I gonna wait for the N, P and J tour to get here. I‟ll
catch it in Richmond the weekend before. Yeah, that‟s how I‟ll seal the dealconfront
Nick face-to-face before he gets here.”
“Aren‟t you afraid you‟ll” Miriam meant to say “humiliate yourself,” but stopped
when she recalled the slew of women she had burrowed through in her attempt to meet
Calvin at the club.
“Well, what exciting things are happening at the Council these days?” inquired Jocelyn
with an edge of sarcasm.
Miriam described the upcoming luncheon, without revealing too much to her indiscreet
friend. She finished, “Of course, none of that compares to the political blowout you‟re
“You could think of ways to spice it up.” Jocelyn‟s mood brightened, as creative partying
was one of her fortes. “How about an open bar at Council expense? I know the Palm Tree
does a nice one. When you submit the bill to the fiscal office next month, say Old Prune
Face authorized it. By that time she won‟t remember whether she did or not.”
“I hardly think she‟s that senile yet,” said Miriam with lowered voice, although Mrs. B
had stepped out. “But that‟s still a good suggestion. Anything else?”
“Christ, I have dozens of them. How about this? Invite some interesting guests that
nobody expectspeople who‟ll stand up and expose the program in front of the Director
and Dep Director and everybody else. If you really try, you can dig up one or two former
grantees who‟re willing to tell the truth about it.”
“What truth?” Miriam‟s voice rose incautiously.
“God, the whole shebang. That Peace grantees are really political operatives. That some
of them have fingers in all kinds of foreign businesses and are getting kickbacks and
payoffs and God knows what else. That the so-called Peace program is part of an entire
conspiracy to make a few government thugs rich and powerful. And there have been
grantees who refused to toe the party line and never came home.”
“Jo, you keep making these charges. I‟ve heard them a hundred times. But only one
grantee has ever disappeared from his post, and that was ruled an accident. There‟s no
proof of rampant corruption.”
“Who needs proof, when we know in our hearts that‟s how things go? I know Old Prune
Face is evil at the core. Somebody‟s just got to stand up and reveal it.”
It would save Miriam tons of research if somebody would stand up like thatsomebody
who could present real evidence, not just theories. “Jo, I‟ve only got a week. How‟m I
supposed to find an ex-grantee crazy enough to spill all that in public?”
“He doesn‟t have to be crazy, just drunk enough. Whadaya think the open bar is for?
Christ, it wouldn‟t shock me if your exalted director, Mr. Three Piece Suit himself, stood
up and made that speech. He always struck me as a repressed personality who just needed
the right kind of encouragement to bust out of Old Prune Face‟s clutches.”
“I didn‟t know you knew the Director that well.”
“I didn‟t, but I sure would‟ve liked to. You might think about that for yourself, Miriam.
He‟s an attractive man, only in his mid-forties or so, and I don‟t think he‟s any flaming
right-winger like the Dep. That‟s my gut feeling.”
“He‟s married, I think,” pointed out Miriam. “Besides, he‟s already got a girlfriend, or he
did. That may have been squelched by the Dep.” Miriam filled Jo in on the latest
developments in that blighted romance.
“Oh, man, I always suspected it was hot and heavy between Wrightman and Renee, but
they used to be more discreet. Wouldn‟t it be even funnier if Renee was the one to stand
up and make that speech?”
“I can‟t see her doing anything like that in front of her big-shot husband,” said Miriam,
while her head swam with possibilities.
Jocelyn shifted the discussion back to her own upcoming event. During the next week she
intended to have publicity flyers printed up and distributed all over town. “Why don‟t
you drop by the club around noon on Wednesday or Thursday, and I‟ll lay a handful on
you. Pass them around the office, the Palm Tree, whatever. And bring Cass, too, if she
can take an hour off from her fabulous new job; I‟d like to hear what‟s going on at the
Post. Christ, who would have thought plain, ordinary Cass would move up in the world
like a shot?”
“No offense,” said Miriam, “but Cass has probably moved up too far to hang out at your
club anymore.”
As soon as this conversation ended, Miriam called the restaurant and arranged for the
open bar. She reflected on Jocelyn‟s other suggestions, but they seemed too far-fetched.
She could not picture herself calling ex-grantees and begging them to drop by and expose
the program. But the idea of an explosive guest star lingered in her mind.

The following Thursday, Miriam left the office at the stroke of noon and galloped across
the Circle and down Eighteenth Street. She entered the Kramerkeller and took the
Stairway to Heaven two stairs at a time. She hurried, knowing her days of expanding the
lunch hour with cheap wine and wistful talk were over; a long absence from the Deputy
Director‟s suite would be noticed.
She joined the usual slight lunch crowd in the main room. Jocelyn was seated in a corner
booth with a hairy man in a colorful T-shirt who looked vaguely familiar. Could this be
the guy Jo had doused with beer on that August night at Boxley Stadium? “Miriam, great
to see you,” she called across the room. “Have a seat anywhere. I‟ll join you as soon as
I‟m through with this business meeting.”
Miriam took a table near the bar, where Heinz eyed her as he dried glasses. “Don‟t just
stand there,” Jocelyn ordered him. “Get her a cheeseburger and a glass of wine. And give
her some of those flyers I left on the bar.”
“Just light beer with my cheeseburger,” put in Miriam. “I need to make a phone call, if I
can borrow your office for a few minutes.”
As soon as Heinz had brought her a frosted glass of beer, Miriam took it and made her
way into the office-bedroom behind the bar. She smirked at the unmade bed, which
conjured up memories of her last visit. Determined to make a quick connection, she
punched in the number.
She heard the familiar greeting “Yeah?” and spoke without hesitation. “Hello, Professor
Whittle. Miriam Cooper. If you‟ll remember, we spent a recent Friday evening together at
the Kramerkeller.”
“I‟m not sure how much I remember,” laughed the professor. “Was it good for you?”
“Oh, it was a productive night.” Miriam jumped at the chance to make it sound more
triumphant than it was. “In case you don‟t remember, we talked some more about
irregularities in the way Peace grantees are selected. Especially about the woman who got
the grant you applied for.”
“Ah, yes. Faith Taylor of Texas. The oil baron‟s delight. My special research project.”
“Oh, great.” Miriam‟s heart lurched. “You‟re still researching her, I presume?”
“Only to satisfy my competitive nature. I have a need to find out exactly what my sister
professor has that I haven‟t gotand how she got it.”
“We already know she has a political career,” prompted Miriam. “You told me she‟s a
big wheel in the Texas Republican Committee.”
“Yeah, she‟s their sweetheart in more ways than one. I‟ve had some fascinating talks with
the Democratic opposition down there. They all know about Faith the Fundraiser. She has
a big appetite for oil money and for rich and powerful men. Republicans, oil and sex: is
that a lethal enough combination?”
“Fascinating,” said Miriam. “How would you like to meet Faith Taylor face to face?” She
described the upcoming event at which Whittle‟s rival was expected to appear.
“You want me to crash this ritzy luncheon? I guess I can see myself doing that. I‟ll wear
a dress for camouflage and sit at a table sipping white wine while your bosses make their
lame speeches in praise of the grantees. Then I‟ll stand up and tell Faith we need more
details about her amazing career. Specifically, she should clarify just whom she‟s
sleeping with now. Is it still the president of the University of Texas? Or has she moved
up to the governor‟s mansion, as some reports have it?”
My God, thought Miriam, what kind of monster have I unleashed? “Don‟t you think it
would be better if you and Professor Taylor met and talked one-on-one? I‟m sure that
would be a lot more productive thanmaking a public scene.”
“Dearie, you still have that humble secretary‟s mentality. You want everything to run
smoothly on the surface; you don‟t want to be held responsible for any ruckus. I say a
public scene is the way to blow the lid off. Are you gonna pick away at the edges
“It‟s just that I‟m looking into other cases besides Professor Taylor‟s. I‟m trying to find a
pattern in the selection of these grantees. Before I accuse anyone of anything, I‟d like to
know exactly what they‟re doing on this gravy trainif that‟s what it is.”
Miriam described the baffling variety among the half-dozen special guests. They came
from universities that spanned the country, from New England to Florida to Texas to
California. Their destinations were London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Moscow and Florence.
They were professors with areas of expertise so varied that they might have difficulty
sustaining a conversation once they met face-to-face. There was a chemical engineer, a
sociologist, an expert in urban affairs, a journalist, a mathematician and an economist.
“I can see why your little head‟s swimming,” said Whittle. “I say it‟s a waste of time to
try to get the dope on all of them. Stick to the big themes, like sex and oil. How many
Texans you got besides Taylor?”
“Just the economist, who has a banking background.”
“Now you‟re cooking with gas. You‟ve put big money and oil together. Can sex be far
“But how do we know those two are connected,” protested Miriam, “when one‟s from
Dallas and the other from Austin?”
“Maybe the plan is to get them together. You think your bosses are above a little
“That would blow one of my other theories,” admitted Miriam. “I believe this
economist-banker is my boss‟s son-in-law, although that isn‟t generally talked about. I
also believe there‟s been a long estrangement between my boss and her daughter. I
figured this grant was some sort of kiss-and-make-up deal.”
“Maybe it‟s a pay-him-off-to-get-lost deal. Maybe she doesn‟t care for him as a
son-in-law, and would like to foist him off on Faith. Ever think of that?”
No, that was one thought that hadn‟t entered Miriam‟s swimming head. Whittle muddied
the picture further by suggesting that the overseas travelers might leave an oil-and-money
trail. “There‟s got to be some big scheme driving all this. I suspect two Texans who plan
to spend a year in Europe must know there‟re fortunes to be made exploiting oil fields in
developing countries. A banker and a politicianjust the types to put out feelers ahead of
time. Then there‟s the Washington bureaucrat who knows the banker personally, who‟s in
a position to send him and his new friend overseas to cultivate those ties. There could be
a nice cut of the profits for all three of them.”
“Wait,” said Miriam, exasperated that the story line had spun out of her control. “I don‟t
see how that‟ll work.” She tried to extract some facts from this growing morass of
speculation. “Taylor is going to Florence and Randolph to London. How‟ll that get them
in touch with oil fields in developing countries?”
“Dearie, everyone knows banking and politics are intimately connected all over Europe.
One or two good contacts in any country might lead straight to an oil field. But I don‟t
know how you‟re gonna piece all that together a continent away. They‟ve probably
covered their tracks pretty good.”
Just what I need, thought Miriam; another conspiracy-minded friend. Professor Whittle
seems about as grounded in reality as college dropout Jocelyn.
“To really pursue this angle, you‟d have to go overseas yourself,” mused Whittle. “Why
don‟t you get your bosses to send you on a junket? Don‟t they ever reward hard-working
employees like you with trips to Paris or London?”
“They sure as hell don‟t reward secretaries that way.” Miriam chortled at the thought. A
sip of beer went down wrong, bringing on a spasm of coughing. “That‟s a Catch-22,” she
continued, gasping and choking. “I‟d have to be a big shot to rate a trip like that. But how
much incentive would a big shot have to expose the program?”
“You‟ll have to work that one out for yourself. But I‟ll give you a little push if I can. I‟ll
put in a call to my contacts in Texas and see if they can give me more ammunition along
the lines we discussed. If I come up with anything, and if my busy lunchtime schedule
permits, I‟ll make a quickie appearance at the Palm Tree tomorrow. Maybe I‟ll just throw
my fuel in Faith‟s face and then turn tail and run, so you can be the one to pick up the
“A dialogue would be better,” put in Miriam as Whittle rang off. A dialogue is my only
hope, she thought. This scandal will never give way to my meticulous digging; what I
need is a close, prolonged encounter between the two professors to blast it out of the
water. I‟d take notes furiously as they tangled, then exert myself like crazy to write up the
story while it‟s fresh and rush it over to Calvin during “nooner” time. How fast can one
girl write?
Miriam emerged from the bedroom-office breathless and sweating, tomorrow‟s agenda
heavy on her mind. Awaiting her was the traditional Kramerkeller luncheon and a fresh
beer. Jocelyn was seated at Miriam‟s table, holding a wine glass in one hand and a flyer
in the other. “Get over here, Miriam, and check this out. I kid you not, we‟re gonna wreck
this town on November twenty-first.”
Miriam discarded her empty beer glass at the bar and sat down opposite Jocelyn.
Suddenly ravenous, she burrowed through the pile of potato chips to extract her
cheeseburger. As she chewed, she studied the flyer in amazement. “God, Jo, you only
came up with this fundraiser idea a couple of weeks ago. How‟d you pull this off?”
The real question was, could she pull it off? Through a variety of photographic tricks, Jo
had placed a Mayoral candidate and a rock band in the same picture, even making them
appear to pose arm-in-arm. A headline proclaimed, “Nichols, Powers and Judd rock the
city for Lainie Palmer.” The time and place of the “free-for-all fundraiser” were
announced below the picture in smaller letters. A nice feat, thought Miriam, but a trick
photo isn‟t real life.
“Are you sure you can do this?” she demanded.
“Whadaya mean? It‟s already being done. I‟ve got fifty of these flying all over town, and
an order for fifty more with Calvin Martinez‟s printing outfit. And I just placed an order
with my old beer brother, the guy who was here today, for commemorative T-shirts with
an enlarged version of the photo.”
“Okay, so you‟ve got a flyer and a T-shirt. But does that make this fundraiser real?”
Miriam dropped the flyer on the table, where it stuck in something sticky. She gestured at
the picture. “Have these people really consented to join forces like this? Or do you plan
toto shanghai them by spreading this advance publicity as if it were a fait accompli?”
“They‟re as committed as anybody can be this far ahead of time,” insisted Jocelyn.
“Lainie‟s campaign manager is coming in sometime next week to discuss it. It‟s not that
startling, Miriam. Lainie has hung out here many times, and ideas like this have been
floated before. Besides, she‟s a close friend of Calvin.”
“Jo, just because you‟ve been pretty tight with all these people in the past doesn‟t mean
you can just insert them in a phony photograph. This is pure fantasy. Don‟t you realize
Lainie‟s slipping out of your league, just like Cass? She‟s no longer dating the backup
quarterback of the Redskins. She‟s dating the guy who could take them to the Super
“God, Miriam, you just don‟t get it, do you? It doesn‟t matter how famous Pete and
Lainie become. They‟ll still be the epitome of anti-establishment. They‟ll always hang
out here more than they do at places like the Palm Tree. The more successful they are, the
angrier they‟ll make the powers that be. The Boxley-Bailey cabal will be out to destroy
“C‟mon, Jo. Don‟t you think Boxley would like to see his team go all the way, even if the
quarterback isn‟t his first choice?”
“Oh, I guess he‟d accept the trophy if Pete wins it for him, but he‟d be holding his nose.
He‟d a million times rather win it with his own handpicked boy. That way the Texans can
go right on accumulating all the power and influence in our city.”
Jocelyn must have been reading The Free Paper with might and main. She had acquired
Calvin‟s phraseology and employed it fearlessly. Miriam tried to pick up the flyer, but it
resisted her greasy fingers. “Listen, Jo, I‟m just urging some reasonable caution here. I
don‟t want you to get sued for false advertising.” But Miriam‟s argument flagged; she
always wanted to believe Calvin, even when she didn‟t.
“What do you mean, free-for-all fundraiser?” she added. “Isn‟t that a contradiction in
terms? A fundraiser is supposed to make money.”
“This one will make tons of it, I assure you. The drinks won‟t be free.”
Nothing could dissuade Jocelyn from the conviction that she was about to make history
and achieve her personal Nirvana in one blow. Miriam refrained from further skepticism.
At least Jocelyn had concocted a picture that made her quest come alive. Miriam wished
she could cook up a similar advertisement for her luncheonmaybe a blended picture of
the six grantees, with Mrs. B hovering over them like an evil cloud.
“Well, you should have a fun day tomorrow,” prompted Jocelyn.
“I‟m predicting a crashing bore.” Miriam‟s senses had been dulled by the beer. She set
down the glass, vowing that a beer and a half was her limit for a weekday. She shoveled
in some potato chips, hoping the salt would revive her.
“Christ, Miriam, where‟s your imagination? I‟ve told you repeatedly, there‟s lots of juicy
stuff going down at the Council if you open your eyes. I always thought sexual
harassment was rampant there. Not the usual kind, with bosses hitting on secretaries, but
the other way around. They‟re all hot to trot, those Council secretaries. Their problem is,
only two male Program Officers, and both of them probably gay. Have those two gotten
together yet, by the way?”
“I don‟t know,” said Miriam, exasperated. “Who really cares?”
“I‟ll bet their secretaries consider it part of their job descriptions to convert them if at all
possible. If not, the only real man left to hit on is the Director himself. You should try to
make your move before the other girls do, Miriam. Get yourself seated at his
Excellency‟s table tomorrow.”
“That‟s impossible. He‟ll be at the elite table with the Dep, the six grantees and the two
escapees, Cass and Renee. Plus, Renee‟s husband.”
“Holy shit. You‟re gonna have Renee, her husband and Wrightman all at one table? The
love triangle of the century? That does it, Miriam. You gotta sit close enough to monitor
that situation.”
“Naw, I really think that‟s kaput. I‟ve been trying to figure out the attraction between
Renee and the Director. I even got Wrightman‟s file out of the archives and studied his
history as a Peace scholar in his own right. He went overseas several times in the
seventies, specializing in third world countries in Africa and Latin America. He
represents the idealistic side of the program, the Peace Corps kind of commitment. I can
see why Renee finds that attractive and dashing. But their love affair was doomed from
the start, mainly because she‟s a coward. When crunch time comes, she‟ll cling to the
lifestyle she has with her husbandthe mansion in McLean, the fancy clothes, the trips
to Europe.”
“I don‟t blame her.” Jocelyn‟s enthusiasm dwindled as her wine disappeared. “I suppose
you could be attracted to a Peace Corps type. But personally, I‟m with Renee. I‟d rather
have the cushy life and the fancy trips.”
“I think he‟s a good man.” Miriam became convinced of this as she spoke. “He‟s a fine
public servant, especially compared to Old Prune Face.” This, she decided, would be the
story line to pursue tomorrow. She cared nothing for a silly love triangle that collapsed as
soon as the illicit lovers were inconvenienced or embarrassed. Nothing more would come
of that, she was sure. Instead she would study the dynamics between the Director and
Deputy Director as they presided over the elite table. Later she would write it up as a
classic struggle between a good and an evil bureaucrat.
“Well, here‟s to creative partying.” Jocelyn raised her glass in a toast, although Miriam
had stopped drinking. “How‟s this for a vision? I see you getting up at that luncheon
tomorrow and proclaiming to the Director and the Deputy Director and the world how
much your job sucks. Then you‟ll make a dramatic exit, just like I did last summer.”
But Miriam didn‟t see herself quitting her job tomorrow. By the time she departed the
Kramerkeller, she had worked herself into a lather of anticipation that someone else
would take this step. Maybe the Director, Mr. Three Piece Suit himself, would prove to
be the renegade ex-grantee that Jo had envisioned. Would he make that dramatic exit,
spitting in the Deputy Director‟s eye?


                       CHAPTER NINE: Power Luncheon

Miriam envied Jocelyn her fundraiser, where the drinks wouldn‟t be free but would be
paid for and imbibed in a good cause. She stood before the Palm Tree bar, thirty minutes
before it was scheduled to open for her luncheon guests, wondering how much these free
drinks could accomplish. To prove that her orders were legitimate, she presented an
agency credit card to the manager in charge. She barely comprehended why she had been
moved to confess her plans for this open bar to Mrs. Broadwater instead of arranging it
behind her back. Nor was she sure why Mrs. B had jumped at the idea, and authorized her
to use the credit card.
As if that weren‟t surprising enough, the Deputy Director had cracked one of her cryptic
smiles and thanked Miriam for her hard work in organizing the luncheon, as well as other
extra duties performed at the front desk these past few weeks. Could it be that the woman
trusted her, even liked her? Miriam wasn‟t comfortable with this notion. Her constant
plotting lay on her conscience, as well as the envelope of checks that she had stuffed into
her purse as she departed the office. Not necessarily an underhanded act, she assured
herself: I really did forget to call the courier this morning, and I do intend to take the
envelope to the bank myself as soon as this luncheon is over. If I should happen to stop
off somewhere between here and the bank, and the envelope should be pried openwell,
I don‟t know yet if that plan makes sense, any more than this fool notion that Mrs. B likes
me. What she likes is the appearance of loyalty.
Miriam also made sure that a special table seating approximately a dozen had been set up.
The dining room was a sea of small round tables, perfect for intimate conversation, but
the large table in front was to be reserved for guests of honor. The Council event would
absorb half the room, with no clear boundary between the party and the public. Miriam
foresaw that as the two separate crowds swelled, Council employees might have a chance
to mingle with the restaurant‟s often elite clientele.
Further, the dim lighting, enhanced by glowing lamps on each table, gave the place an
aura of mystery. At the back of the room was a riser with a long table holding a bank of
microphones where radio personality Puck Cavenaugh would set up shop later. I‟ll lose
my lunch, Miriam thought, if I have to stick around long enough to hear him. I wonder
how many of our special guests are fans of his.
She could needle those types if she dared. She reached into her purse, fingered the thick
envelope, then pulled out one of Jocelyn‟s flyers. She waited until the manager was
otherwise occupied, then slipped over to the big table and placed the flyer next to the
center lamp. When she rejoined the manager, she smiled and nodded her approval of the
She ordered a cup of coffee from the bar and carried it to one of the small tables. She
sipped thoughtfully as she watched the front door. To her delight, the first person who
bustled through was the only one she could talk to with unmixed pleasure. Cass rushed
toward her with open arms and administered a hug and kiss, as if they had not seen each
other for months. “Hey, kid, I‟ve missed you a lot.”
“I‟m glad you made it early,” responded Miriam. “You‟ll have a chance to catch me up
on your new job. I‟m so jealous I could scream.”
This was a sleeker, more vibrant Cass. She had discarded the neckerchief that she had
worn for years to disguise the wattle around her chin. Her flowered dress sported some
fearless touchesa plunging neckline, a belted waist, a less than knee-length hem. Her
blonde hair, which usually hung limply at her shoulders, now rippled with waves. “You
look like the picture of success,” said Miriam, “a real go-getter. I was sure you‟d be too
caught up in some deadline to get here on time.”
“That‟ll be the day,” scoffed Cass. “So far I haven‟t been on any deadlines, and everyone
I work with takes long lunches. Oh, don‟t get me wrong, I‟m enjoying myself. I really
needed to shake up my life and try something new. But I‟m a lot more of a go-fer than a
This was not what Miriam had hoped to hear. She had counted on getting some vicarious
pleasure out of Cass‟s new career. She wanted the changes to be more than cosmetic. The
new Cass she envisioned would shine at the elite table, bowling over the other guests
with her Post credentials.
Instead Cass seemed almost nostalgic for her old job, with its clear boundaries and
specific responsibilities. When Miriam complained of boredom in that job, Cass
conceded that the Post newsroom was anything but slow. People came and went
constantly, worked furiously, and talked volubly. Story ideas, some of them offbeat or
conspiratorial, were debated and shouted down. The flow of activity and information got
too intense at times for Cass‟s modest brain, or so she claimed. She was more suited to
the predictable cycles of a government program.
“What‟s going on with that Redskins story your boss was planning?” demanded Miriam.
“You know, the sympathetic profile of Larry Longford? You were so excited about that
last time we spoke.”
“Oh, that,” said Cass, sounding surprisingly glum. “My boss gave the assignment to
Gloria Stack. She‟s planning to profile both quarterbacks.”
“That sounds even more interesting.”
“She‟s supposed to be working on it right now, but I have no idea where she is. I‟ve been
talking to the Redskins‟ publicity office to try to set up interviews for her, but that hasn‟t
been easy.” Cass leaned forward and hissed, “I think she‟s out trying to pump some of
Larry‟s enemies.”
“You‟re starting to get paranoid, Cass, if you‟re seeing Larry‟s enemies everywhere.
What makes you think Gloria wants to do a hatchet job on him?”
“I know he was nasty to her on the phone. I just barely missed talking to him that time. I
had gotten hold of some secretary who said he was just down the hall, she‟d go get him.
But while I was waiting, Gloria picked up and I had to get off. He must have said
something awfully rude and then hung up on her, because she was livid. I just know she‟s
out to get him.”
“Maybe she should,” said Miriam. “It‟s the media‟s responsibility to keep us informed
about public figures. If Larry‟s a jerk, we should all know it.”
“She should‟ve let me talk to him. I understand him.” Cass launched into her usual
defense of her hero, citing his personal struggles and the pounding he had received from
the press. She feared Gloria‟s article would perpetuate that problem. Her attempts to
lobby for a more balanced treatment had been scoffed at. “Honestly, Miriam, I don‟t
know if I can be a party to that.”
“Cass, snap out of it. You‟re gonna walk out on a great job because of your blind loyalty
to a guy who wouldn‟t give you the time of day even if he ran over you in the street?”
“I don‟t believe that.” Cass recoiled from this picture, as if she found it more real than
she would admit. “I don‟t want to quit the job, because I‟m really enjoying the novelty of
it, and besides, I‟ve never been a quitter. But I have to believe in what I‟m doing.”
Cass jumped to her feet when she saw the Director and Deputy Director enter the room
like a couple of dignitaries. She hurried over to embrace her former supervisor and shake
hands with Wrightman. The three proceeded to the bar, ordered drinks and took them to
the large table. They‟re setting the tone, thought Miriam. Who‟s gonna mind the store
this afternoon?
From her distant perch, Miriam watched as Cass and Mrs. B chatted like lifelong
girlfriends, raising the possibility that Cass could be lured by sweet talk back to the
Council. It mustn‟t happen, vowed Miriam. What can I do to prevent it? If Cass
backslides, she might push me back with her.
No plausible plan came to mind, even as Miriam gulped her coffee and returned to the
bar for a refill. She saw Renee and her husband Anton sweep into the room arm in arm,
as elegantly turned out as a Hollywood couple. They greeted the Director and Deputy
Director with formal handshakes and stiff smiles. Renee‟s husband acted the perfect
gentleman as he pulled out a chair for his wife, then approached the bar to get their
Soon the bar would be swamped. Miriam saw several of her colleagues come through the
door, interspersed with strangers who must be part of the Big Six. Most were headed this
way. Miriam took another of Jocelyn‟s flyers out of her purse, slapped it on the bar, and
rushed away with her coffee. She sat down at her table to ponder the significance of this
act. Even as the restaurant filled, no one seemed to notice that she had seeded the place
with left-wing propaganda.
She tried to sit back and survey the scene, but felt uneasy and conspicuous. Most of her
co-workers were in a holiday mood, thanks to the open bar. They had begun to occupy
the tables around her, laughing and toasting each other. Why, thought Miriam, do I feel
like an alien in their midst? Why can‟t I relax and have fun like the other girls? Don‟t we
all want the same thingshigh-powered jobs, immortal loves? I‟m probably the only one
here who wishes she were somewhere else. I‟d like to nod off right now and wake up at
the Kramerkeller on November twenty-first.
She would feel at home there; Jocelyn would see to that. Jo had promised to seat Miriam
at her own table that night in return for an honest effort to distribute the flyers. Having
made that attempt, Miriam sipped her coffee and contemplated what a “free-for-all
fundraiser” would be like. She still didn‟t quite believe Jocelyn‟s assurances that the
dowdy little club could pull off such an event, but she had suppressed her skepticism.
Would Jo succeed in luring back a famous band on the strength of her past liaison with
the lead singer? And what about the Mayoral candidate she intended to honor? There was
every chance Lainie would be the front-runner by then if her boyfriend proved himself on
the gridiron during the next several weeks. What if neither the band nor the honoree
bothered to show up that night?
Miriam assured herself that everything would come off as Jocelyn planned. She
envisioned the political-musical-football crowd that would surge through the club—a
unique blend of rowdies, sophisticates and local big shots. In her imagination, this crowd
overflowed onto the streets like stopped-up sewer water, making itself heard and felt at
the ritzier establishments a few blocks over, places like the Palm Tree. All night, Miriam
would hang onto her privileged seat, as the intricate blasts of Nichols, Powers and Judd
deafened her and the pulsating masses threatened to dislodge her.
“Gawd, Miriam, what‟s with you? You look like you‟re off in another world. Are you
gonna join the party or just sit there and daydream?”
Miriam nearly spilled her coffee. She looked up to find Sally the Whisperer towering
over her, gin and tonic in hand. Trailing her were fellow drinkers Ginny the Giggler and
Amelia, solid buddies of Sally‟s ever since their shared football experience.
“I‟m not daydreaming,” lied Miriam. “I‟m just thinking aboutthings. I‟m coordinating
this event, you know.”
“Well, you‟re doing great, so relax. Have a drink. I‟d like to be able to tell Frank we all
had a great time today.”
“Oh, I am,” said Miriam unconvincingly. Sally retreated with a grin, having managed to
remind everyone that her husband was a part owner of this place. As the three girls seated
themselves several tables away, Miriam shook off her reverie and determined to live in
the moment from now on. Her immediate task was to study the dynamics of the big table
without being too obvious about it.
It was difficult not to stare at the connections being made and unmade thirty feet away.
Drawing on her prior knowledge of the grantees‟ ages, and several news photographs that
she had found in the files, she could identify all six. Who would have expected the
middle-aged chemical engineer, Ellen Beck, to hit it off with the youthful sociologist,
Harvey Williams? And why was Faith Taylor not chatting up Ed Randolph, her fellow
Texan? He was the estranged son-in-law whom Mrs. B was supposed to throw in her
path, according to the scenario cooked up by Pamela Whittle.
Instead, Faith and Mrs. B were giggling together like a pair of schoolgirls sneaking an
illicit drink, while Ed talked soberly to Cass and looked uncomfortable when the Deputy
Director eyed him. Seated on Mrs. B‟s left was Dr. Phillip Weston, the original Raging
Reject, who apparently had charmed his way into the program. He continued to ply this
skill, causing Mrs. B and Faith to laugh even harder. Meanwhile, the Moscow-bound
journalist Emil Ericson bent Director Wrightman‟s ear, which effectively prevented him
from sending furtive, longing glances across the table at Renee. But no one could say
Renee looked neglected as she snuggled up to her evidently reconciled husband.
“Looks like you got a bead on this whole shootin‟ match.” The put-on Texas drawl came
from Pamela Whittle as she slipped into the seat opposite Miriam. “So when do we eat?”
Miriam, who had doubted she‟d come, jumped at the sight of her. As Whittle made
herself comfortable, Miriam wondered belatedly how she would explain this apparition to
the invited guestsparticularly if Whittle did something to attract attention. Fortunately,
she and her odd guest were seated close to the public side of the room, and everyone else
looked preoccupied. Perhaps Whittle could be passed off as a legitimate drop-in.
“Most people are drinking first, Professor.” Miriam nodded toward the bar and smiled
awkwardly. She had yet to address Whittle by her first name, and the professor still
hadn‟t corrected her.
“Thanks for the suggestion, dearie, but no alcohol for me yet.” Whittle shook her head,
rattling a pair of plastic skeleton earrings that signaled the proximity of Halloween. Other
than that, Miriam observed, she had made some concessions to the high-toned
atmosphere. Her hefty frame was contained in a dark blue business suit, and her wild red
hair was pinned back in an uncertain bun. Her lipstick matched her hair and the tint of her
glasses, but at least this wasn‟t flaming red. Rather than bellow for the waiter, she
signaled him and asked for water.
“First let me get the lay of the land.” She turned halfway in her seat and squinted toward
the big table. “Yeah, I can see everything revolves around that tough broad with the gray
butch haircut. She runs the whole show, doesn‟t she? Who‟s her boyfriend over there?
The dirty old man who‟s practically feeling her up?”
“That‟s Dr. Phillip Weston, a professor of urban planning. He wasn‟t selected in the first
go-round, when he was trying for Paris, but somehow he‟s wheedled a trip to Berlin.”
“I‟m not surprised. I find him rather Presidential.”
“Presidential?” repeated Miriam.
“He looks like a slightly off-kilter President Bailey. Don‟t you see it? His hair may be
longer and un-dyed, and he may have about fifteen pounds on the Prez, but the profile is
remarkably similar. The only thing wrong with this picture is that the woman herself is no
match for the First Lady.”
“I think she longs to be the First Lady.” Miriam, intrigued by this possibility, trumped up
every office rumor she had heard. “She‟s intimately acquainted with Bailey, or used to
be. I believe they knew each other as kids in Texas. She has pictures of him in her office,
and none of her own family. I don‟t know why he has that effect on some women.” The
President was less attractive, she reflected, and far more circumspect than one or two
previous holders of that office.
“Nobody‟s ever accused him of being a womanizer, as far as I know,” she added.
“Poppycock, dearie. All powerful men get their jollies somewheremaybe not right in
the Oval Office, but somewhere. I‟ll bet your boss woman was hot and heavy with the
Prez at some point when they were both spring chickens. If so, they still have their
titillating memories.”
“Yes, Texas memories.” Miriam had little to base this on, other than those few pictures in
Mrs. B‟s office, and her habit of whipping out a Texas key chain like a pistol.
“Check it out. I‟ll bet she‟s a long-time groupie who managed to stick in his mind long
enough to make some serious hay once he reached the White House. Typical route for an
ambitious woman.”
“She‟s so secretive about her personal life, it‟s hard to know anything for sure,” said
“Haven‟t we already established that everything corrupt and evil originates in Texas?
Take Faith Taylor, for example. You don‟t have to tell me which one she is. I knew all
along I‟d see a Miss Texas face and a body to match. How could I ever hope to stack up
to that?”
“Only she doesn‟t seem to be making the connection we thought she would,” said
Miriam, as Whittle continued to eye Taylor.
“What connection was that?”
“Remember our earlier theory about the Texan politician and the Texas banker? We
thought that would be a natural liaison, and that the banker‟s mother-in-law might be able
to facilitate it. The idea was, they could develop the necessary financial and political
resources during their stay in Europe to invest in raw oil fields in the third worldor
something like that.”
“Oh, yeah.” Whittle studied the scene. “Guess it‟s not happening, at least, not obviously.
Faith looks so tight with the boss woman, she isn‟t giving anyone else the time of day.
And none of the men, except the Bailey look-alike, seem connected to the boss. You sure
there‟s a son-in-law up there?”
“I made that assumption based on his name and her daughter‟s name,” said Miriam,
exasperated as always when she lost her grip on the story line. “It could be they‟re
concealing the relationship in public, because technically, they‟re violating the nepotism
“Seems to me this whole affair must be skirting some rule or other. Where does the
Council get off honoring just six grantees out of how many? Thirty? How do they rate
this special treatment?”
“We do have these send-off luncheons periodically,” explained Miriam. “Usually they‟re
held for the first wave of grantees, about fifteen or so, who leave for their posts around
New Year‟s. But this event seems both too early and way too small. Also, too elegant.
Normally, they‟re just catered lunches, held in the Director‟s or Deputy Director‟s
“But you‟re right. The whole point of my research is to find out what‟s so special about
this half-dozen. I‟m sure at least some of the remaining grantees will be taken care of in
the usual way, closer to the holidays, and in the second-wave events after the holidays.
But why thisthis October surprise? And why are they combining this send-off with two
going-away parties for members of our staff?”
“That‟s not necessarily a cover-up,” said Whittle. “Maybe your bosses are just cheap.”
“I overheard the Director and Deputy Director arguing about it. I think Wrightman told
her to combine the events because she was in danger of looking obvious. I‟d like to know
obvious about what?”
“Well, it‟s time we answered that. We‟ve both suffered in suspense long enough. I see no
reason why we shouldn‟t march up there and ask Faith Taylor exactly why she‟s being
wined and dined on the government‟s tab.”
Fortunately, a good reason presented itself at that moment, as the waiters began to bring
in the lunch plates. Miriam had taken advance orders from the guests for a choice
between three Palm Tree specialties: gourmet burgers, chicken salad and roast beef. The
sandwiches were accompanied by large fruit salads that contained various combinations
of watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, apple, peaches and pears. Since there were a few
no-shows, Whittle snared a surplus burger plate. As Miriam bit into her own burger,
noting its succulent thickness and subtle charcoal taste, she compared it to the typical
Kramerkeller grease ball with its salt-filled garnish. Hard to believe only moments ago
she had longed to be there instead of here. The Palm Tree, she told herself haughtily, was
the center of power and class in this town, while the Kramerkeller represented the
underclass in its eternal struggle for respectability. She determined to relish the present.
The idea of raw oil fields returned to Whittle as she chewed. “You know, that‟d make a
decent scandal, since you‟re obviously salivating for one. And you say I hit on it in my
earlier ramblings? How clever of me.”
“Yes, but you connected it with Faith Taylor and the son-in-law, and we don‟t have any
evidence to support that.”
“No sweat. We can find an alternate villain if necessary.”
No immediate suspects came to mind, so Miriam and Whittle tucked into their lunches.
They agreed that this was a rare treat, as both tended to be eat-on-the-run types during the
workday. For now the head table looked more convivial than suspicious, even to their
watchful eyes.
Several diners up there were receptive to second drinks. Dr. Weston got up and went to
the bar to refill Mrs. B‟s glass. Anton followed suit for Renee. Most intriguing was the
sight of Ed Randolph performing this gallantry for Cass. Miriam still cherished her
original theory, the Taylor-Randolph liaison, yet managed to be mildly happy for Cass‟s
sake. She had never seen her friend charm an unattached man this way.
Director Wrightman had set himself apart by not drinking at all. As the meal wound
down, he got to his feet and gulped some water. Whittle took a corresponding swallow,
then winked at Miriam. “I like that three-piece suit look.”
“Colleagues and friends of the Peace Council,” he began, “I‟m glad to see you all in such
a relaxed mood this afternoon. I‟ve always found it good policy to get together outside
the office periodically to unwind, before we return to our respective battles.”
A weary look belied his words, but he continued: “Since we‟re all together in this
celebratory atmosphere, it seems an opportune time to reflect on what we‟re celebrating.
As I like to point out whenever I‟m invited to speak in other venues around town, our
Council is unique in its mission. We plant the seeds of peace wherever we can. No
function of our government is more important than the exchange of knowledge. This, I
sincerely believe, is more essential to our global and national health than the armed
The smattering of applause that greeted this mildly pacifist sentiment seemed to startle
him. He proceeded with a grin: “Of course, that‟s not an idea that has much currency in
the present administration. As you know, I‟m a holdover. The new guys in townwho
aren‟t so new anymorehaven‟t gotten around to replacing me after three years. Could it
be somebody‟s put in a good word for me?” His grin fell on his deputy, who looked
“I‟m told that whenever the Peace Council is mentioned in President Bailey‟s hearing, he
has a good chuckle. He knows our budget is chump change, and it‟s his privilege to
prefer more muscular agencies ahead of us. Even so, I‟m grateful to Mr. Bailey for our
daily bread.”
Nervous titters filled the room. Miriam wondered if Wrightman, in his evident weariness,
had forgotten that he was in a public forum. Or was he asking to get fired? Whittle raised
her brow at Miriam, as if asking the same question. Mrs. Broadwater, whose face had
become flushed, reached up to tap him on the back. She applied more force than
intended, and the Director almost staggered.
Recovering quickly, he proceeded: “But politics aside, our special guests are getting an
idea of the tight schedule that drives us these days. We don‟t usually try to kill three birds
with one stone. But in this case, I think it‟s fitting to honor two departing stalwarts of the
national office, together with the first wave of grantees that they helped to send on their
way during the current cycle. It‟s fitting that a couple of class acts, both of whom have
worked several years at the Council, are getting a chance to mingle with a fine group of
scholars who have been awarded some of the most coveted grants we have to offerthe
European appointments.
“Let me elaborate a bit. When I talk about class acts, I mean individuals who work day in
and day out to give the Council the sense of purpose I described earlier.” He proceeded to
delineate the particular qualities of Renee and Cass, heaping praise on both as though
they had enjoyed equal rank at the Council and equal importance in his life. Secretaries in
the crowd, susceptible to Wrightman‟s charms, smiled at his deftness in equating a
secretary‟s importance with that of a Program Officer. Miriam longed to gauge Renee‟s
reaction, but was not in a position to see her face.
“When I refer to the most coveted grants, I mean the relatively cushy onesand I use
that word advisedly. I don‟t mean these grants aren‟t as worthwhile and honorable as all
the rest, just because the grantees are relatively comfortable. Still, I feel an obligation, on
occasions like this, to recognize another class of grantees, the ones we often fail to
entertain on this scale. Admittedly, they depart later in the year, when the budget for
these functions tends to dwindle. So we end up regaling them with carryout refreshments
more in keeping with their destinations, from places like Taco Bell and McDonald‟s. I‟m
exaggerating, of course. But there is a kind of institutional snobbery some of us practice
without really noticing it.” He smiled at his deputy, who grimaced in reply.
“While today‟s guests of honor will no doubt have free time to spend in places like the
Louvre and the Sistine Chapel, others will be glimpsing straw villages in parched
countrysides, or cardboard villages in crowded streets. I know that some of our staff who
hold down the fort here, and haven‟t yet had the opportunity to travel widely, may think
of Europe as the exotic world they don‟t know. But there‟s another world far more exotic
than that.”
Mrs. B reached over to tug Wrightman‟s vest, but he sidestepped her. “Believe me, I‟m
not here to denigrate the fine grantees at this table who have earned the right to be
enriched by their grantsenriched in cultural ways. But I do like to recall my own
experiences in places where graffiti represents popular culture. And maybe I cherish
some hope that those of you who decide to repeat the Peace grant experience will choose
one of those more exotic posts next time around. I‟m in a position to compare, having
held both kinds of grants in my Peace career.”
Picking up energy, he spoke of the several countries in Africa and Southeast Asia that he
had first visited as an idealistic young Peace grantee. Nothing compared to the joy of
bringing Western expertise to places where it was desperately needed and appreciated.
One might be accused of paternalism and ego gratification in such a situation, but who
could resist the embrace of people who believed you knew all the things they wanted to
“That‟s an incomparable feeling, and a rare one. It‟s one reason why two of our major
program areas, Latin America and Asia, including Siberia, have been assigned to our
most junior Program Officers, young men who‟ve brought a fresh spirit and outlook to
the Council. I can assure you those grants are in very good hands.”
Miriam smiled at his choice of words. She glanced toward Sally the Whisperer, the
woman most responsible for spreading the rumor that both of those young men were gay.
She was in a position to see Sally make a fey motion under the table for Amelia‟s
amusement, which Ginny the Giggler couldn‟t catch.
“Despite these new hires, the Peace Council is and will likely remain critically short of
staff. That‟s one reason why we senior officers feel obligated to back up our junior
officers in areas of particular interest. Africa, a perennially short-changed program, is the
area I‟ve taken under my own wing. And now that Renee Hubert, our Program Officer
for the European theatre, is moving up to a position at headquarters, my trusty deputy,
Mrs. Broadwater, is prepared to assume at least temporary direction of the area closest to
her heartrepresented by our guests today.”
His grin grew reckless. “One of the nice perks of that job is the occasional free trip to
Europe, something that Elaine Broadwater has certainly earned. She has toiled in
Washington for over twenty years; she has been a friend of President Bailey longer than
that. I‟d say she‟s entitled to any benefits those two circumstances allow.” Miriam tittered
with the rest of the audience, as if everyone had just realized the significance of those
pictures in Mrs. B‟s office. The Deputy Director, who seemed discomfited by teasing,
struggled to convert her grimace into a smile. This produced an effect similar to a
fun-house mirror.
Wrightman, in the act of swallowing another draught of water, caught Renee‟s eye and
reigned himself in. Miriam regretted that Renee‟s back was turned toward her; all she
could detect was a shake of the head, a gesture that might or might not be construed as
intimate. Wrightman returned to his more benign manner.
“To clarify a little, Elaine Broadwater is not only a friend of the President, but a friend of
mine. She‟s a fine public official who has, I repeat, earned the right to pick and choose
areas where she will concentrate her energies. This is also a positive development for
Mrs. Hubert, who is leaving that program. She has expressed a desire to use her
headquarters position as a stepping-stone toward new vistas, toward a worldwide
perspective. She has even hinted that when she and Mr. Hubert get around to a
long-planned second honeymoon, they might well head for Lagos or Lima instead of the
usual Paris or Rome.”
The applause that burst forth was particularly hearty from those employees who toiled in
the third-world programs. Ginny the Giggler jumped to her feet with a cheer and pumped
her fist toward her boss at a nearby table. He responded with a wink, which set her
Whittle, who seemed fascinated with Wrightman‟s speech, stopped chewing and took
several swallows from her glass. “Man, what‟s in this water? The guy‟s starting to make
sense.” She wiped her face, using her napkin like a towel, then leaned toward Miriam. “Is
your Director always this effusive?”
“The last time I heard him make a speech like this,” replied Miriam in a discreet voice,
“his remarks were a lot more conventional. And he was drinking, or at least proposing
toasts. Today he seems to be on a mission.”
“He strikes me as a man who‟s near the end of his rope. Or maybe a puppet who‟s trying
to wiggle his way off somebody else‟s ropes.”
Wrightman was painting an idyllic picture of the African grants, as well as the
prospective second honeymoon of Anton and Renee Hubert. He built up the third world
experience like a travel agent, insisting on the “enriching” aspects of impoverished
locales and accommodations. His eyes glistened at the pair whom he wished to endow
with these “hidden rewards.” They snuggled together like a couple who had just won the
“The Director‟s in love, isn‟t he?” whispered Whittle.
Miriam lurched forward in her seat. “How did you know?”
“Dearie, I‟m a college professor. Day after day I lecture classes full of pubescent kids
who‟re mainly there to ogle each other. I‟m a master at gauging hormone levels as
revealed by subtle gestures. Sometimes it‟s all in a sideways glance; sometimes it‟s all in
avoiding that glance. I‟ve seen a little of everything at that table today.”
“Renee was my boss for four years,” Miriam informed her in a loud whisper. “Toward
the end, I was hoping she‟d run off with Wrightman. At least that would‟ve livened up
the office gossip.”
“Nah, Three-Piece-Suit isn‟t the type to run off with his lover. But something tells me
he‟s gonna take care of that girl. And her husband too, if he has to.”
“What‟re you saying?” Miriam‟s excitement began to elevate her voice. “That they‟ve
formed some kind ofof troika that started out as a love triangle?”
“Hush, dearie. Save it for your expose. All I‟m saying is, those subtle smiles and coy
gestures make me pretty sure there‟s both money and sex under the surface.”
“Don‟t tell me you think the Director‟s corrupt,” Miriam almost begged.
“Maybe not corrupt, but certainly corruptible. I‟ve seen that look of controlled
desperation many times in my more advanced classes. Virgin souls, ripe for the seeds of
knowledge. I‟ve helped to launch a generation of less than idealistic politicians.”
The Director‟s speech ended abruptly. He sighed and loosened his collar, as if he had
gotten a load off his chest. “Well, I guess I‟ve earned a drink.” He headed toward the bar.
“I think I have too.” Whittle set down her water glass and jumped to her feet, in synch
with Wrightman‟s movement.
“What‟re you up to?” Miriam reached out a restraining hand, almost knocking over her
own glass.
“I might feel like having a word with a guy I happen to run into at a bar. What‟s wrong
with that? I‟ll pay for my own drink, if that‟s what‟s worrying you.”
“But you don‟t even know him,” protested Miriam. “What‟ll you say to him?”
“Maybe I‟ll just casually ask him if it‟s too late to switch my application to Africa. That
after listening to his idealistic sentiments, I know I was a fool to apply to Europe in the
first place.” She smiled down at Miriam. “Don‟t look so worried, dearie. Meet me in the
bathroom later, and I‟ll fill you in.”
Fatigue struck Miriam as she watched Whittle plunge toward the bar. She felt unable to
keep up with her or anybody else. She had set into motion this three-ring circus, only to
lose control of it. Potential scandals beckoned and retreated before her eyes, looking
more and more impenetrable. She resolved to sit back, suck on a cantaloupe slice for
strength, and watch Whittle try to join the “troika” where she thought she had glimpsed
money and sex. She saw Whittle introduce herself to the Director, and begin regaling him
with her credentials. No doubt she would convince him that her abilities had been long
Resigned to whatever the professor might do, Miriam turned to watch Ginny the Giggler.
Is it worth noticing, she wondered, when a secretary sidles up to her supposedly gay boss
and tries to climb into his lapand he does nothing to resist her? Is that an innocent
gesture, or is the gender gossip about him a lie?
When Miriam returned her gaze to the bar, she saw that Wrightman and Whittle had been
joined by a third party. She recognized this figure from a Post profile, which had
described him as the oddest paradox in towna longhaired, bearded wisp of a man, by
his own admission an acid-era refugee, who voiced some of the loudest conservative
views being heard on radio. Some wags speculated that Puck Cavenaugh, in his youth,
must have burned out the cortex of his brain where real thoughts could evolve, leaving
only the right-wing, reptilian core. He made much of his self-sufficient lifestyle in the
mountains of West Virginia, an hour and a half‟s drive from Washington, where he kept
his wife and three children far removed from the pernicious influences of the capital
where he had made his fortune. One of his primary hang-ups, recalled Miriam, was
professional women. He wore a business suit and tie, but his hands were ostentatiously
rough from the labor of building and maintaining his “cabin” in the woods.
While he drank something that looked like hard liquor, Cavenaugh picked up and perused
the flyer for the Mayoral fundraiser that Miriam had left on the bar. Soon he was waving
it in the Director‟s face as if this were the Council‟s business. Wrightman took it out of
Cavenaugh‟s hand and studied it with amusement, while Whittle peered over his shoulder
and chuckled.
I‟ve got to get up there, thought Miriam, and take the blame. It‟s the honorable thing to
do. She jumped to her feet and headed to the bar with the intention of refilling her coffee
cup while she pondered what to say. There was no opportunity at first, as Wrightman and
Cavenaugh stood toe-to-toe in argument, and Whittle gave her a knowing wink.
“You should fire whoever on your staff is spreading this crap around. It‟s gotta be
somebody on your staff, because I‟m here every day, and I‟ve never seen this planted
here before. I thought your kind were supposed to keep your noses out of partisan
politics.” He used his powerful lungs like the voice of God to rock listeners back on their
heels. But Wrightman, holding his ground, explained that the rules of government and
quasi-government prohibited career employees from active participation in elections, but
did not restrict such acts of free speech as displaying flyers outside the office.
“In my humble opinion, it oughta be at least discouraged for any of your people to
disseminate smut like this and call it freedom of speech. I‟ve never seen so much riffraff
crammed into one picture. But I guess it makes perfect sense for a drug-addled band to
endorse that particular candidate for Mayor. We all know what her qualifications
areliving in sin with a loud-mouthed quarterback and flouting her inter-racial
relationship like some badge of courage. That‟s new age politics for you.”
“I don‟t necessarily agree with the politics of it.” Wrightman had set aside his drink, and
faced the blowhard with a firm jaw and steady gaze. “But I‟m certain I don‟t care for
bigotry masquerading as morality.”
He‟s magnificent, thought Miriam. Not to mention attractive, as he answers the voice of
ignorance. No one will ever make me believe this man is corrupt.
“And I‟m certain I don‟t care for being called a bigot.” Cavenaugh sputtered and fumed
while Wrightman smiled. “It ain‟t the inter-racial business I object toit‟s the living in
sin. And anyway, whatdaya take me for? I host an intelligent, informed radio program
with the support of this high-class restaurant. My listeners are every bit as sophisticated
as you in their own up-front way. But of course you bleeding hearts are so wrapped up in
your own biases, you would never recognize that. You‟re just the kind who can‟t tell a
conservative from a bigot.”
“I guess I‟ll have to reserve judgment on the intelligence of your audience, since I‟m
obviously not qualified to be a member of it.” Wrightman picked up his drink and posed
it in a mock toast.
“Soul brother,” exclaimed Whittle, clicking her glass with Wrightman‟s. “Permit me to
salute the man of my dreams. We must belong to the same socio-political category:
citizens who wouldn‟t listen to Puck Cavenaugh if every other radio voice on the
airwaves was choked off.”
Puck looked Whittle up and down, then took in her girth. “Since when have they started
letting loudmouthed riffraff into this fine restaurant? I might have a word with the
management about that.”
“I‟d advise you to rephrase that remark,” said Wrightman, “keeping in mind that you‟re
speaking to a lady.” Whittle and Cavenaugh chortled, but the Director kept his own
features in magnificent repose.
“Since you two are so overwhelmingly smart,” resumed Cavenaugh, “why don‟t you join
my live audience this afternoon? Maybe some of your genius will rub off on my more
simple-minded followers who like to gather here to watch me perform.”
“I doubt you‟d want us to mingle with your crowd,” said Wrightman, “since it‟s well
known you never tolerate any dissent. We wouldn‟t want to do anything to dilute that
perfect, sheep-like conformity you prefer. So I‟ll try to clear my people out of here before
your show begins.”
“But before you disperse us, Mr. Director, I‟d love to mingle at your table for a minute or
two,” Whittle told Wrightman. “I‟m panting to find out what makes you Council elites
tick. I promise, if you‟ll introduce me to some of your guests of honor, I‟ll be a perfect
The Director laughed, as if she were a delightful novelty. “Of course I‟ll introduce you.
But first I must do the gentlemanly thing and wish our friend Mr. Cavenaugh a good
“Ah, don‟t bother.” Puck shrugged him off as he downed his drink and set the glass on
the bar. He stalked away, making for his safe haventhe bank of microphones at the far
end of the room. On the way he caught a glimpse of Sally, the wife of a part-owner and
evidently an acquaintance. He stopped at her table to exchange greetings.
Deserted at the bar, Miriam pushed aside her coffee cup. “I‟ll have whatever they were
drinking,” she told the bartender, her humor falling flat. She sipped gingerly at the scotch
and soda he brought, wondering how anybody could drink the hard stuff and return to
work. Why, for that matter, had she turned to alcohol after holding out for hours?
Whenever she lost the thread of the scandal, she succumbed to confusion.
This scotch penetrated her system more purposefully than the cheap Kramerkeller wine
ever had. It calmed the turmoil in her head, allowing a few threads to re-emerge. The
envelope of checks she had carried away from the office remained secreted in her purse.
Further, it was only one-thirty, perhaps still close enough to nooner time at Calvin‟s
apartment. What if she rushed over to P Street, burst into his presence, tore open the
envelope and scattered checks all over the place?
She would contemplate that scenario for a few minutes as she sipped away and watched
developments here. Maybe around two o‟clock, when the Cavenaugh show started, she
would make a break for Calvin‟s. Passing the bank on the way, she would be tempted to
do the sensible thing and make the deposit. Or maybe she wouldn‟t go anywhere, except
to the bathroom to rendezvous with Whittle as planned.
That professor is something, thought Miriam, the way she can work a table practically
arm in arm with the Director she just met, no doubt promoting her newfound interest in
Africa and confessing her past unworthiness to mingle with Peace grantees. Watch her
dangle those skeleton earrings in everyone‟s face. The entire group looks open-mouthed
at such aggression: appalled or fascinated, it‟s hard to tell. Mrs. B and Renee seem
unpleasantly ruffled, while Cass, who must remember the professor from a previous
occasion, is all smiles. Is it possible to talk your way into the program? Hell, yes, it‟s
been done before. Look at Dr. Weston almost leap across the table to shake hands with a
fellow reject who won‟t accept defeat.
Miriam hoped to see Whittle penetrate the circle, but so far she seemed to hover on the
outskirts as a curiosity. Some of the Council elites might be suspicious of her conversion.
Could she convince them that one inspired speech by the Director had been sufficient to
open her eyes to the third world? Did Miriam believe that herself? By now Whittle had
spoken to almost everybody, but no one had invited her to sit down.
Miriam turned to the other side of the room to study Puck Cavenaugh‟s group of live
followers. Puck had slipped into his place behind the main microphone, and Sally had
seated herself at a front row table opposite him like an honored guest. Soon she was
joined by a grinning, intense man in a gray three-piece suit, not nearly as impressive in
that style as the tall, trim Wrightman. Sally‟s husband, Miriam noted, was several inches
shorter than she and balding, but his forceful mannerisms were those of a successful
businessman. Anybody could see that the Whisperer had married for security rather than
romance. Yet she had done well for herself, considering that she was a carefully groomed
non-beauty herself. Other dressed-for-success types were filling the tables nearest the
microphone bank. Cavenaugh had characterized his crowd well. They were as far from
his idea of loudmouthed riffraff as you could get.
Miriam returned her gaze to the main table at her own party to find that Whittle was
in-like-Flynn. She had taken the seat next to Faith Taylor, where Renee had been
moments before. Miriam looked around for her former supervisor, but couldn‟t locate
her. She suspected Renee might not get an opportunity to reclaim that seat, since Whittle
seemed to have entrenched herself there. The two professors, Taylor and Whittle, were
chattering away.
Miriam wondered how these strangers from opposite sides of the political fence could
find so much to talk about. Yet this wasn‟t so far from her original scenario: a
side-by-side profile of two applicants, one successful and the other a reject, who seemed
equally qualified. She had planned to expose a less-than-objective selection process; then,
in a dramatic final scene, bring the two professors together and let them fight out their
differences. Miriam grimaced at the sight of the two supposed adversaries locked in
friendly conversation. Like Alice before the looking glass, she saw her story turned inside
When Renee returned from the ladies‟ room, she found all the seats taken. Anton got up
and motioned her into his seat, then moved around the table and stopped next to
Wrightman for a private chat. So there‟s two-thirds of Whittle‟s troika, observed Miriam,
conferring in plain sight of everyone. Maybe Anton‟s inviting the Director to join him
and Renee on that second honeymoon somewhere in the third world. If Whittle were
smart, she‟d be eavesdropping on that discussion instead of gabbing with her opposite
As Miriam shifted her attention to Whittle, she nearly gagged on her drink. The professor
had begun to chat up Mrs. Broadwater, who regarded her with perplexity and suspicion.
What if Mrs. B turned nasty and ordered Whittle to leave the table as an unauthorized
person? Worse, what if she found out that Miriam was responsible for this intrusion?
I better get over there and explain, thought Miriam. Only how do I explain Whittle?
Would she give me a chance? She doesn‟t seem to be giving Mrs. B a chance to tell her
to get lost. In fact, with Taylor looking so amused, the Deputy Director shows signs of
loosening up. Heavens, is that a hint of a smile?
Whittle must be putting on a humble act with Mrs. B, as she had with Wrightman. Instead
of demanding recognition of her equal credentials, she was sucking up. Miriam could
only imagine what she had in mind. Had she really gotten religion over Africa? Or did
she smell lucrative connections to be made at the big table? Either way, she had promised
to meet Miriam in the ladies‟ room and spill all.
That was the only course that looked open to Miriam at this moment. It seemed the
prudent course, as she began to sense the internal rumbles that resulted all too often from
mixing caffeine and alcohol. She left the bar and strolled toward the bathroom. She
moved as deliberately as she could, hoping that she would be noticed and followed, but it
was a solitary trek. She settled herself in there, finding it peaceful enough to meditate.
She lowered her head into her hands as a hedge against dizziness. Where was everybody
else? Could she be the only woman at the luncheon who didn‟t have a cast iron stomach?
If she stuck around long enough, something would happen. She repeated this mantra to
herself for several minutes. Then her peace was shattered by the arrival of the dynamic
trio she had observed earlier. Again Miriam‟s wishes were granted in a topsy-turvy way.
She had hoped that Whittle would follow her into the bathroom; she had longed to
eavesdrop on a discussion between Whittle and Taylor; she had plotted to catch Mrs. B in
a compromising act.
She hadn‟t expected to find them laughing together like adolescents who had flirted with
a favorite teacher and then stolen away to compare notesand Mrs. B the giggliest of all.
“Honestly, I wish Daniel wouldn‟t tease me in public about my friendship with the
President. Sometimes he embarrasses me so badly, I could punch him in the nose.”
“He must be jealous,” declared Whittle. Miriam wondered if the professor was being
sarcastic. Neither Taylor nor Mrs. B seemed to think so. They seconded the notion, as if
such a love triangle were possible.
“I think it‟s more than just jealousy,” chimed in Taylor. “It‟s also professional fear.
Daniel obviously expects you to be promoted into his job sooner or later. He probably
wonders why it‟s taken as long as it has. And frankly, so do I.”
“The President has a few other things on his mind these days,” said Mrs. Broadwater
“But if it‟s as inevitable as you say,” said Whittle, “I better move fast, while he can still
get me to Africa. I‟ll put on kinte cloth, if that‟s what it takes to get his attention.” The
other two women laughed and declared that strategy a good one.
“Looks to me like you already grabbed his attention, without the kinte cloth. But let me
give you some advice.” Mrs. B, slightly tipsy, grew confidential. “You could win him
over if you sincerely share his passion. But he can spot a phony. It may take him awhile,
but I know him well enough to know he can‟t be hoodwinked forever. I could point out a
brazen slut of a Program Officer who‟s kissed up to him in more ways than one. But her
act has gotten old.”
Miriam suppressed a gasp and kept her seat as the women passed these observations back
and forth. She felt like shouting, Hey, girls, you‟ve got company. Do you think I‟m a
corpse sitting here? Don‟t you care who might be overhearing your scintillating if
drunken remarks? If it were Renee herselfbut I guess you figure it‟s just some
secretary, and we‟re supposed to be non-comprehending as well as invisible.
The three women occupied the stalls to the right of Miriam‟s, still chattering about the
“slut” and wondering how much the husband knew of her behavior. When they
reassembled at the mirrors, with Miriam still frozen in her place, she heard Whittle say,
“All right, ladies, we all know what we really came in here for. Let‟s get out those
This time Miriam‟s gasp was audible, but she still seemed to attract no attention. This
was it: the checkbooks were out. Within seconds she would hear, if not see, a scandalous
transaction. It occurred to Miriam that Whittle might have set this up in full realization of
her presence. Hadn‟t they once agreed to join forces, if the occasion arose, to uncover
shady deals at the Council? If so, what an amazing ally Pamela Whittle had turned out to
be. Now she was stating with emphasis, as if for Miriam‟s benefit, “I know you want to
get this done in secret, away from prying eyes.”
“It‟s just that it‟s embarrassing,” said Mrs. B. “I wouldn‟t want Daniel or Phillip or any
of those scholarly types to see this side of me.”
“I feel the same way,” replied Whittle. “We have our iron-lady images to protect.”
Miriam heard the sounds of pens scratching on paper, of checks being torn from
checkbooks. She strained all her senses and powers of deduction to determine who was
paying off whom, and for what purpose. But this would remain a mystery unless someone
said something incriminating. Spill it, you bitches, she wanted to scream.
Finally Whittle said, “Now that this is a monetary relationship, I feel confessions are in
“Not necessarily,” said Mrs. B.
“We‟re all friends, aren‟t we? Tell us who you‟re planning to bowl over with your
Parisian finery.”
“I‟ll only tell you if and when it works,” laughed Mrs. B. “Faith, I‟m writing down the
addresses of a parfumerie in Paris and a dress shop in Florence. I know you‟ll shop
conservatively and get the most for my money. Please report directly to me as soon as
you get back.”
“And I‟ll catch up to you somehow, somewhere, so I can grab my perfume before I
plunge into the heart of darkness,” said Whittle. “At least I‟ll be smelling like a rose.”


                          CHAPTER TEN: The Nooner

Miriam kept her seat as the newly formed trio, Whittle, Taylor and Broadwater,
completed their expensive transaction and left the ladies‟ room. For a long moment, she
held her head. She couldn‟t believe that today‟s carefully planned luncheon had proven
such a bust. She had accomplished nothing except to confuse the issues and muddy her
own head. She was determined not to leave until she had made something happen.
That left her no alternative but to open the envelope of checks that should have been
given to the courier this morning, but that had ended up secreted in her purse. What could
she expect to find there? If Mrs. B was telling the truthshe had proven innocent in the
transaction just concluded, after allthese checks were nothing but petty fees paid to the
Council for routine office services.
Miriam imagined finding a gem among this refuse, a check that was neither petty nor
impersonal. Hidden among the nickel-and-dime stuff might be evidence of an unholy
bargain between Taylor and Broadwater, one that didn‟t involve dresses or perfume.
What were the chances of coming across a check that said Pay to the order of Elaine
Broadwater? Maybe the Deputy Director had a personal account at National Bank,
conveniently close to the Council account. Miriam considered this possibility, although
she had glimpsed her boss many times at the neighborhood bank on Dupont Circle.
Miriam broke the seal on the envelope and discovered two smaller envelopes inside with
separate labels. As she read them and breathed, “Oh, my God,” the bathroom door
“Miriam, is that you? Are you sick or something?”
“Oh, hi, Cass. No, I‟m not sick, but something just came upI mean, I have to leave
right now to do an errand.”
She shoved the envelopes back in her purse, burst out of the stall and smiled reassuringly
at Cass as she washed her hands.
“What‟s the matter, hon? You look as if you‟ve seen a ghost.”
“It‟s nothing,” panted Miriam. “Just something I forgot to do earlier, and it‟s urgent. I
gotta run.”
“What‟s so urgent? I‟m sure Mrs. Broadwater wouldn‟t mind if we visited for awhile; we
won‟t get another chance real soon. Besides, the Puck Cavenaugh show is about to begin,
and we‟ve all been invited to be a part of the audience.”
“That really will make me sick.”
As Cass looked alarmed, Miriam added, “It‟s nothing to worry about, really. How about
we get together at the club next week and I‟ll tell you all aboutmy errand. But right
now I do have to run.”
She had to run, to clear her head. She returned to her table, grabbed her jacket and rushed
out of the restaurant, attracting glances from the Giggler and the Whisperer and failing to
take decent leave of Renee, her supervisor of four years. She had violated protocol, but
the weight of the treasure she carried required an immediate vigorous walk in the crisp
autumn air.
She made a right turn as if to proceed toward the simple errand that awaited her on
Seventeenth Street. The checks behaved like a compass, pulling her toward the front door
of the bank. Just deposit the damned checks, she exhorted herself, and get back to work
before Mrs. B sends out a posse to hunt you down.
Only what if she didn‟t? And what if the Deputy Director was called upon to explain to
the authorities why she was feeding a rogue account at the Banksomething obviously
political, called CouncilPac? Wasn‟t it Miriam‟s duty to refrain from making a deposit
that might be shady, if not illegal? She felt a gushy, daughterly impulse to save the
woman from herself.
This sense of duty was magnified by thoughts of Calvin Martinez, who had invited her to
drop by his P Street apartment once she had evidence to back up her numerous
suspicions. She cased the bank like a potential customer. Shouldn‟t she stop in if only to
examine the loot she was carrying while she considered her options? Something stronger
than duty pulled her past the glass door, around the corner and back toward Dupont
She picked up the I Street route, one frequently taken during her walks. As always, she
skirted a jumble of pricey and less pricey establishments that seemed to punctuate her
state of mind: the lawyer‟s offices, the outdoor cafes, the high and not so high-toned
watering holes, the second-hand bookstores.
Disdaining to go near the Palm Tree again, she proceeded with a quickening pulse to
Dupont Circle, a crossroads for every facet of city life. She didn‟t stop to soak up
atmosphere, nor did she contemplate her mission too closely. She had decided not to
examine her surprise package unless she got a chance to present it to Calvin. If it turned
out to be less scandalous than she hoped, she would have at least bluffed her way into his
presence. Maybe chemistry or lust or a meeting of the minds would take over at that
As she began to circumnavigate Dupont Circle, stark choices popped up; there still was
time to abort the mission. A three-quarters trek around the Circle would lead her back, if
she chose, to the sedate Massachusetts Avenue address of the Peace Council. Her safe
arrival back at the office would be possible only if she resisted the lure of P Street. She
set out to cross that avenue like a normal pedestrian, only to be sucked in as she knew she
would be. She found herself on the street of her dreams, rushing past apartment buildings
that maintained an air of some stately past, yet seemed to deteriorate as she watched. She
hurried as if shadowed by daytime ghosts.
What better place for an ex-football star, who alternately deplored and reveled in his loss
of fortune, to set up shop? Operating a press in such modest circumstances had
strengthened his crusader credentials. He might have a lot to teach a middle-class naïf
like Miriam.
But could her pride stand it? She wasn‟t the type to throw herself at any man, much less
at this self-proclaimed God‟s gift to women. What if one of her colleagues glimpsed her
hurrying in the wrong direction? She tried to concoct an explanation for later use, but it
was hopelessly convoluted.
The entire project was appalling. What kind of crusading editor offered nooners to
aspiring female writers? She summoned up all her outrage and disgust, only to find
herself on the front stoop of his apartment building, awash with fear that it might be past
nooner time. Could she have come this far only to miss him? In that case, she would
leave him a note.
At least, she thought, I‟m not about to face him without ammunition. I have story ideas
and possible evidence. She remained on the stoop, mentally rehearsing a quick move for
grabbing the relevant envelope from her purse and waving it in his face to forestall any
moves of his own. She squared her shoulders and prepared to sail into the lobby. She
would look the front desk attendant in the eye and announce that she had business with
Calvin Martinez. Let him snicker if he chose.
With her dignity shored up, she reached for the front doorand found it locked. Who
would have expected to encounter state-of-the-art security at this gentrified spot? She
pushed a button that was supposed to summon the attendant, but nothing happened. She
could see the big, scruffy guy through the cloudy window, but he was lounging over a
magazine and never looked in her direction.
Embarrassing as it would be to pound on the front door, she was working up to it when
she was saved by a woman who pushed the door open on her way out. Miriam grabbed
the handle to keep it from closing again as the longhaired blonde tore past, leaving a trail
of fragrance. Could that be the scent of Martinez?
A jolt of recognition passed between the two, so startling that Miriam tried to get out her
name before the woman rushed on. Apparently Gloria Stack considered their brief
Kramerkeller acquaintance an inadequate basis for saying hello in broad daylight. Miriam
was left to ponder whether the Post was in bed with The Free Paper. Why would any
reputable paper consort with a rag? Worse, when had the crusader succumbed to the
It stood to reason that a curvaceous reporter with long, blonde tresses and a couple of
solid by-lines would make herself and her scandals irresistibly juicy to the likes of Calvin
Martinez. Hadn‟t Cass mentioned Gloria‟s penchant for three-hour lunches in the name
of research? Today alone she might have had the equivalent of two and a half nooners
with Calvin. Now Miriam must confront Calvin and get a whiff of whatever he and
Gloria had cooked up.
She proceeded through the lobby and stopped at the front desk. “Room two-oh-two,” the
attendant told her with a wink. Miriam bypassed the rickety elevator and pounded up the
stairway. When she arrived on the second floor, she spotted her quarry at the far end of
the corridor. It was after two, but he was just retrieving the morning paper from his
She tried to call out his name but couldn‟t find her voice. She began to run, and the echo
of her footsteps caught his attention. He regarded her with that acute stare, followed by a
half-grin, that had aroused such tumult in her the last time she had managed to draw close
to him. Once again, by the time she was within arm‟s length, her heart sank. That look of
his was interested but impersonal. How could he have forgotten her when she could recite
every move he had made that night? She swore that she would not settle for being an
anonymous hanger-on.
“Excuse me for bursting in on you, Mr. Martinez.” Her extraordinary politeness froze
him. “You might not remember me, but we talked a few weeks ago at the Kramerkeller. I
told you I was investigating the U. S. Peace Council.”
“What‟s the U. S. Peace Council?” he inquired with charming innocence. “Isn‟t it the
Covert War Council?”
“That‟s just a little nickname I came up with.” She laughed guiltily at having taken full
credit for the jibeshe no longer remembered if it were her original idea or Jocelyn‟s.
“I‟m a friend of Jocelyn Jones,” she added. “You know, the assistant manager at the
“Yeah, I know Jocelyn. I know a lot of girls like her, and you, presumably. You all love
to bite the hand that feeds you.”
God‟s gift to women had insulted all women. Miriam grabbed the envelope from her
purse with such force that he stepped back as if he thought she was armed. She waved the
evidence over her head almost as dramatically as she had planned.
“Yes, I‟m biting the hand that feeds me, but it just might deserve to be bitten. I have
evidence here that Peace grants are for sale to political contributors. I think it has the
makings of a great investigation. Do you want to see it or not?”
Her echoing voice seemed to recoil on her. She jumped, and Calvin laughed. “You better
come in, unless you‟re trying to let the whole neighborhood in on it.”
Miriam stepped into the apartment as if she anticipated a plunge into a sewage dump. She
thought she would see all the accouterments of a wild lifestyle and a rebel mind. But
Calvin‟s place, while not exactly orderly, exuded signs of industry and a taste for nice
things. He tossed the newspaper onto a mahogany coffee table, which held a pile of
manuscripts. Then he bounded across the room to turn on the radio, part of an elaborate
stereo system that dominated the wall.
Miriam figured that all his meetings here must be accompanied by music. She took in the
crowded but lush living room, padded with carpet, drapes, chairs and sofas that perhaps
represented various color schemes from his previous homes. Despite the lack of
coordination, Miriam could detect nothing disheveled or out of place to betray that
notorious casting couch. She glanced down a hallway which seemed to contain a
conventional separation of bedroom, office and bathroom. Compared to this, Miriam‟s
place was a bare artist‟s loft. If her hero‟s airs of poverty were false, his reputation as a
Lothario might be equally exaggerated.
“As long as you‟re here to pitch something,” he said as he tuned in the radio, “make
yourself comfortable, but brace yourself. I‟m not easy.”
Was this a business or a sexual proposition, or both? Miriam tried to make herself
comfortable by removing her jacket and draping it over a chair, then planting herself in a
corner of the sofa with the envelope in her lap. The wink he tossed over his shoulder as
he arrived at his intended radio station confused her further. No romantic music filled the
room, but an advertisement for the National Rifle Association.
“I need some right-wing ranting every day for inspiration,” he explained. “It‟s a burr in
my side.”
She seconded this sentiment, and wondered if she could find a way to check the
“CouncilPac” envelope in advance. Could she slip into the bathroom, open it privately,
then excuse herself graciously if the contents turned out to be unworthy of Calvin‟s
Don‟t be a wimp, she told herself. How could an envelope with such a promising label
fail to deliver something explosive? Consider the element of mystery as we sit here and
open it together. If it‟s worthy of a Free Paper expose, I‟ll offer up my sweat and skills to
make it work.
As he approached her with a grin, taking her in, the envelope in her hands felt
lightweightempty, for all she knew. Would he banish her for wasting his time, or
would she manage to impress him somehow? How charming could she be with her
clothes disheveled, her hair wind-whipped and her makeup un-refreshed since she had
left the office?
“Well, love, don‟t just sit there.” He sat down beside her. “Show me what you‟ve got.”
“Of course,” she blurted, tearing at the envelope. “I can‟t wait either. I‟m dying to find
out who CouncilPac‟s main contributors are.”
She slit the envelope with her forefinger, tearing it irreparably. By the time she reached
for the goods, he had become distracted by the voice on the radio. The ads had ended and
a diatribe had begun.
“Friends, you‟ve heard me sound off on these airwaves often enough to know what
pushes my buttons. Well, I got one pushed real good just moments ago, right on these
premises. Not that I was looking for trouble, mind you. I was hanging out in my favorite
restaurant, taking some refreshment as I normally do before the show, when just by
accident I came across irrefutable evidence of the deteriorating standards and morals in
this countryas if I needed any more evidence.
“Now, y‟all know me well enough to know that I‟m a live-and-let-live person, unless I‟m
having my nose rubbed in something. I could handle all the depravities of modern life
without flinching, if they weren‟t so blatant and so casual. Just out of curiosity, I picked
up a flyer that looked like it was dropped on the bar by accident, but was probably left
there as a warning that not even this fine restaurant is incorruptible. It‟s an ad for a rock
concert at a nearby dive. But not just any rock concert, friendsno, this is slated to be
the blowout of the year, since it‟s also a pep rally for a well-known political figure,
Councilwoman Lainie Palmer. Y‟all know my opinion of Lainie, whom I‟ve traded many
friendly barbs with over the last few years. A charming lady for sure, and a lively wit.
Her gift of gab, in fact, is matched only by her dazzling social profile. At the moment
she‟s arguably better known for dating the quarterback of the Redskins than she is for any
legislative accomplishments. Which is just how she wants it, judging by the way she and
Pete Spencer flaunt their new-age relationship in everybody‟s face.”
“Here it comes,” said Calvin, winking again at the transfixed Miriam. “I get a kick out of
hearing old Puck go through contortions to prove he‟s not a racist.”
“Calvin, listen,” began Miriam. “I‟m the one” But the editor held up a hand to silence
“Now, y‟all know I‟d roll up my sleeves and fight anybody who dared to suggest I‟m a
racist. I don‟t judge people at all if I can possibly avoid it. And I‟d be the last guy to deny
true love if I thought that‟s what it was. But this Lainie and Pete affair strikes me as sheer
defiance. And this flyer here just proves it.”
Cavenaugh attempted to describe the flyer, but the artistry of the two blended pictures
seemed beyond his grasp. He gave up the attempt and evoked instead a jeering reaction
from his followers, no doubt by waving the document overhead.
“Can any of you doubt this is an advertisement for the end of civilization as we know it?
If you can stand it, take a long, hard look at this trio of musicians who now propose to tell
you who your next Mayor should be. Despite being such astute politicos, they apparently
don‟t feel any special obligation to spruce themselves up for a publicity photo.”
Cavenaugh‟s audience hooted at the band‟s appearance, without stopping to reflect that
their hero was rather unkempt himself.
“This group that calls itself N, P and Jand isn‟t that suspicious in itself, they use
abbreviations instead of their real namescould be Visigoths for all I care, if they would
just confine themselves to the arenas where they belong. But no, they‟re meddling in
politics, which affects all of us. Their political message, as I read it, is that anybody can
be Mayor.
“And incidentally, it also appears that practically anybody can step in and be quarterback
of the Washington Redskins these days. All you need to do is be at the right place at the
right time when the regular guy, the man who‟s been at the helm for five steadfast years,
is injured. You step in and make some flashy plays against the Cowboys in front of a
national Monday night audience, you flaunt your West Coast golden boy good looks and
your exotic girlfriend for the media, and voila. You‟re the toast of the town, and the other
guy, who has twice your experience and savvy, is toast.”
“Now he‟s gonna explain,” Calvin warned Miriam with a grin, “why the Redskins
quarterback controversy is a perfect metaphor for modern life.”
“I can practically hear my friends groaning, there he goes off again on one of his football
tangents. But sports have always been a reflection of the larger society. They magnify our
dreams, our aspirations, our hang-ups. The Longford versus Spencer battle that
preoccupies both the media and the public in this town is an example of a popular
newcomer dislodging a proven incumbent. And let me tell you, that spells trouble.”
“It spells revolution,” gloated Calvin.
“Don‟t think for a minute this sort of thing can‟t spread. These are turbulent times, and
flashy blowhards are bound to rise up and challenge the establishment. That could even
happen to the Presidency, my friends. The bigger they talk, the less practical experience
these interlopers seem to have. It‟s up to people like you and me to keep our heads
around them, and remind everyone else that a few big plays in a big arena don‟t make a
“Now he‟s mangling his metaphors,” said Calvin.
“Even if Spencer and Palmer are the people‟s choice, they‟re part of a dangerous trend
that commonsensical folks should be fighting with all their mightthose of us smart
enough to see through the smoke and mirrors.”
Cavenaugh heaped praise on his longtime pal Larry Longforda complex man, he
conceded, but a fighter who cared about winning, not about how good he looked on
television. “Another self-proclaimed non-racist,” put in Calvin. “Complex, shit. When we
were teammates, Longford‟s favorite nickname for me was the Spic Kicker. A man of
great subtlety.”
“But I gotta warn you, Larry‟s an extremely proud guy,” Cavenaugh breezed on. “I know
him well enough to know there‟s no way he‟ll tolerate the bench once he‟s healthy again.
He‟ll walk off the team before he‟ll consent to sit down for the likes of Pete Spencer. But
personally, I have confidence in the good sense of both Coach Rudman and Mr. Boxley.
You don‟t replace an institution just because a new guy comes in, finishes off a victory
and then wins another easy game.
“‟Course, I know what some of you are thinkingthat a team still undefeated this deep
into the season might as well stick with its current strategy. I know that‟s the popular
view, but you can‟t always go with that. You gotta go with the guy who took you to four
out of five playoffs.”
“But never to the Super Bowl,” piped up one brazen voice.
“There‟s always a wise guy or two in the crowd,” said Calvin, “but Puck always blows
them right down. My suspicion is, they‟re plants.”
“Longford‟s not the best role model,” someone else was heard to comment.
“Yes, he is,” shouted back a piercing female voice. “He‟s a wonderful role model. I‟ve
seen it with my own eyes.”
Miriam gasped at the sound of that voice. When Cavenaugh invited the woman to step up
to a microphone, state her name, and make a case for her favorite quarterback, Miriam
roared with laughter.
“What‟s your problem, love? Find a pipe bomb in that envelope?”
Miriam realized what a picture she must make, glaring wild-eyed at the radio with the
torn envelope and checks scattered over her lap. She took herself in hand as Calvin
picked up a check and studied it.
“I don‟t even know what I brought, Calvin. I got distracted by the program.”
“The program‟s no big deal. Cavenaugh‟s always being an asshole about something, and
his guests follow suit.” Calvin looked at a few more checks with mild interest.
“But I‟m the one who set him off this time. I just came from the Palm Tree. That flyer
Cavenaugh‟s talking aboutI planted it on the bar. Jocelyn designed it, and gave me
some to pass around, but I never dreamed it would end up being discussed on the radio.”
Calvin lifted the torn envelope from her lap, read the label, and tossed it aside.
“That‟s my friend Cass talking right now. She‟s no plant.”
Calvin listened to Cass, who was describing an incident that she and two of her friends
had witnessed on an inner city street one night last summer. They had been among a
group of fans who had followed Larry Longford to his Mercedes after a pre-season game.
It seemed he made a point of parking in that rough neighborhood so that he could pay
four black boys (Miriam wished Cass had called them “young African Americans”) to
watch his car; a condition of their employment was that they would stay away from gangs
and drugs. That was the kind of man Larry Longford was, in Cass‟s judgmentthe kind
who would give the shirt off his back without receiving any publicity for it. Cass omitted
mention of Larry‟s fast getaway in that luxury car, as well as his encounter with the Free
Paper photographer.
“I‟d say he‟s getting some good publicity now,” said Calvin. “You sure this woman ain‟t
Longford‟s p. r. agent?”
“She‟s just an ordinary secretary, like me.” Miriam regretted instantly that she had
belittled both of them. She added, “Actually, Cass has a new job at The Washington Post.
She‟s been assisting Gloria Stackthe woman who I think was just here visiting you.”
“No shit.” Calvin seemed intrigued by the connection between his previous visitor, his
current one and the voice on the radio. He reclined with a grin as he listened to Cass‟s
further portrayal of Larry Longford as a misunderstood man who had overcome tragic
setbacks in life and proven himself an inspirational fighter. With unmasked passion, Cass
declared that if Longford were not reinstated as the starting quarterback, she would no
longer root for the Redskins.
“True confession on talk radio,” said Calvin. “That‟s a lovesick woman if I ever heard
one. She could get into a catfight if she‟s not careful. Longford‟s supposed to be engaged
to some cocktail waitress at the Palm Tree, a gal famous for her possessiveness. If she
overhears this and gets an idea that your friend is seeing Longford”
“Oh, no, that‟s crazy.” Miriam felt a surge of fear for Cass. “She‟s never actually met
Larry. She‟s just kind of obsessed with him.”
The object of Miriam‟s own obsession whistled as he caught sight of a large check in
Miriam‟s pile. But evidently dissatisfied, he went searching for a larger one. When
nothing caught his eye, Miriam‟s heart sank. Meanwhile, Puck dismissed Cass from the
microphone and moved on to a less overwrought Longford fan.
“So the biggest story you got here is, a woman named Faith Taylor has given a thousand
dollars to an outfit called CouncilPac. You‟re telling me this is a scandal?”
“Yes, indeed it is,” said Miriam. “That Faith Taylor is being honored this very moment at
the Palm Tree as the winner of the Florence grant. Isn‟t it obvious she bought that grant?
And that the money‟s probably going into the President‟s re-election coffers? That‟s
another thing. The Deputy Director, who gave me these checks to deposit, is a personal
friend of Bailey‟san old girlfriend, I think.”
Calvin shrugged. “Favors are bought and sold every day in this town. The place couldn‟t
function otherwise. And Presidents will always solicit as much support as they can
plausibly deny knowing anything about. That‟s not a story, love.” He had stopped
looking through the checks and was now focused on her heaving chest.
“But this Taylor woman is from Texas,” pleaded Miriam. “She‟s obviously part of that
Texas cabal you‟re always railing against. It‟s one more piece of evidence to support that
“I‟ve already proven that theory,” said Calvin. “You‟ve got to take me beyond that.”
Miriam felt herself on the point of tears. Through filmy eyes, she saw Calvin‟s face loom
close. Would he console her with gentle wordsor a kiss? “Love, I‟m really sorry, but
this sort of thing is small potatoes. It‟s not even that illegal. So what if a right-wing
administration handpicks right-wing grantees? Even if you assume the money‟s a quid
pro quo, that doesn‟t prove it‟s connected to the President. And what‟s so sinister about
this CouncilPac? Sounds like a collection plate the grantees pass around to help promote
the agency.”
“But can‟t you see how wrong it is,” said Miriam, summoning her outrage, “for money to
change hands between a grantee and a grant administrator, no matter what the reason?
There are rules about that.”
“Okay, so maybe your boss violated some internal agency rule. If you expose her, she‟ll
plead carelessness, and get a slap on the wrist. That‟s not the kind of earthquake I‟m
looking for. I want stories that‟ll rock this government back on its heels. Don‟t you
understand that, love?”
He leaned closer in a plea for understanding. But a surge of rage and jealousy took
possession of Miriam, chasing her tears. To her disbelief, she pushed away this virile
hulk, the embodiment of her dreams.
“Cut the crap, Calvin. A couple of months ago you published a front-page photograph
that caught Larry Longford in the act of throwing a woman photographer to the ground.
And you accompanied that with a pretty damning article about his history with women
and the law. Your only conceivable purpose in making that your lead story was to
embarrass Longford because you bear him a personal grudge from your playing days. Are
you gonna sit there and tell me that‟s your idea of an earth-shattering story?”
Calvin leaned away from her and reflected. Then the grin returned. “Yeah, I‟m gonna sit
here and tell you that‟s my idea of fundamental and far-reaching corruption.”
“You‟re telling me I‟mI‟m barking up the wrong tree.” Miriam, unable to think of a
stronger metaphor, grew even more heated. “All this time I should have been
concentrating on football, not politics.” She gathered up the checks and tried to shove
them back inside the tattered envelope.
“Football is politics, love. Wouldn‟t hurt to bark up both trees.”
Cavenaugh was orchestrating a football discussion with typical balance, calling on at
least two Longford fans to bury every Spencer sympathizer he detected. After the sports
clichés had been bandied about for several minutes, he recalled Cass, perhaps hoping to
provoke another lovesick outburst. “Wouldn‟t you say, Miss Paley, that the liberal press
has really gone after Larry on a personal level?”
“Oh, the Post definitely has, if that‟s what you mean. They‟ve done hatchet jobs on him
before and I‟m afraid they‟re about to do it again. That‟s what I‟ve gathered from
working there for just a few weeks.”
“Shut up, Cass,” moaned Miriam. “You stupid fool.”
“She just took that job and shoved it,” said Calvin.
“You‟re a brave girl to stand up to the left-wing press that way,” crowed Cavenaugh. “In
fact, I can‟t remember when I‟ve had a more honest, open guest, and I believing in
rewarding that. How would you like to meet your hero, Larry Longford?”
“Meet him?” gasped Cass. “Oh, my God, is that possible?”
“He and I are tight, you know. Let me see what I can do.”
Cavenaugh moved on, without apparent connection, to a host of other gripes. Calvin got
up to turn down the radio. Then he strode back to the couch and stood over Miriam, who
barely kept herself from quivering. He folded his hairy, muscular arms across his chest in
judgmental fashion. No doubt he would go on shredding her ideas with relish, and then
belittle her for using such a transparent ruse to see him. She would be tempted to throw
the checks in his face and storm out.
“How well do you know that womanthat Cass?”
“We‟re very close friends,” responded Miriam. “Why?”
“Is she as dumb as she sounds? Or is she dumb like a fox? What would possess a woman
to throw over a job at the Post just to defend a scumbag like Larry Longford? Unless she
has something up her sleeve?”
“Cass isn‟t dumb,” said Miriam, “but she isn‟t deep either. I don‟t think she has anything
up her sleeve.” She paused to gather her thoughts. “Cass is just about the most guileless
person I know. I‟m sure she wasn‟t even thinking about her employment status when she
spoke; she was just giving her honest opinion. She‟s so sensible about most thingsgives
Jocelyn and me very good advicebut when it comes to Longford she‟s almost
irrational. I don‟t know why she loves the guy. She can‟t explain it herself, except that he
has what she calls animal magnetism.”
Calvin snorted. “She must be pretty far gone. I predict Puck‟ll make good on his offer to
introduce them, just to prove he can do things like that. And Longford will sleep with any
groveling admirer until he gets bored. Typical of the breed.”
“But what about that fiancée of his?” asked Miriam.
“Longford can handle his own fiancée. My question for you is this. If your friend
manages to date Longford for awhile, will she confide in you? Can you prod her to share
some pillow talk? Are you prepared to encourage her pursuit of him, and are you devious
enough to report back to me on what you‟ve learned?”
“I think so.” The rush of questions knocked Miriam off-balance. She considered his
proposition, so different from anything she had expected. Accompanied by that mocking
grin, it was almost an insult. Or was it? For all she knew, he treated everyone like that,
from his own groveling admirers to the President.
“What‟ll you do with that kind of information if I can get it?” she asked.
“Dunno for sure. I‟d just like to keep on top of him, so to speak, without his knowledge.
I‟ll listen to any angles you might come up with.”
Miriam‟s hopeless mood eased. He had given her license to be creative, at least on a
subject of his choice. She glanced at the reassembled package of checks that had failed to
spark his interest. Would a check for ten thousand have done it, or was that line of
inquiry as good as dead?
If she rushed, she might still be able to deposit the checks before the bank closed at three.
“Okay. I‟ll keep on top of Cass‟s social life for you,” she declared. “But right now I have
to run.”
“Yeah, you run along. And good luck.” His grin softened to friendliness. As she rushed
out the door to resume her errand, he patted her on the rump.

Miriam treated her visit to Calvin as a defining moment. Her story idea demolished, she
returned to the office without a mission except to learn the new job and make the best of
her relationship with the Deputy Director. No longer did she root through suspicious files
for hints of scandal. What a waste of time and energy that had been, when all she had to
do was keep her nose clean and her eyes open. If funny checks were floating around, they
would fall into her lap. If they didn‟t, other stories would materialize.
No longer did she hunger after Calvin Martinez as if he were the only man on earth who
could satisfy her physical and intellectual needs. His swashbuckling image had been
partially shattered. She figured he must have groveled at Gloria Stack‟s feet to try to get a
foothold at the Post. Miriam had declined to do likewise to crack The Free Paper. If she
ever slept with Calvin, it would be as an equal, or at least a valued contributor.
While steadfast to this principle, she banished loneliness by sleeping with her ex-husband
approximately once a week. She and Jeff had a standing date to meet during the first half
of Monday night football, when he was supposed to be working late at the Archives on a
research project for his wife. He knocked off earlier than Celia thought on those nights so
that he could make a quick stop in Silver Spring on his way home to Bethesda. Celia,
who often worked late in her White House office, presumably had not noticed anything
suspicious. Friends of Jeff at the Archives, who remembered Celia‟s legendary temper
from her days there, willingly covered for Jeff if his wife happened to call at the wrong
time. One of these friends had assured Miriam that Celia was a Fascist in a too-tight skirt
who had lured Jeff into marriage with a sweetness-and-light act.
The sense of danger, and the need for haste, gave lovemaking a zest that it never had
before. Spurred by the drama of the games, Miriam and Jeff saw themselves as tempters
of fate. They discussed Celia as if she were a schizophrenic whom Jeff had been both
brave and foolish to marry. He was proud of her steady career climb, which seemed to be
taking her ever closer to the Oval Office. But the same fiery personality that spurred her
career drove Jeff back periodically to Miriam‟s softer presence.
“What are you researching for her?” asked Miriam one late October Monday night. She
had asked him what, she realized, to avoid for the moment the more important question
of why.
“Nixon, mostly,” chuckled Jeff. “She‟s doing a study of Presidential scandals. Not the
scandals themselves, but the psyches involved. Being an amateur psychologist, she thinks
she‟s on to somethingmaybe a link between Nixon‟s psychological profile and our
current President‟s.”
“I thought she liked Bailey,” said Miriam.
“She does. She admires thugs. Especially subtle ones like Bailey.”
This information sent a chill up Miriam‟s spine. She clung to Jeff melodramatically.
“What about your research?” asked Jeff in turn. “Uncovered any scandals at the
“Nothing sufficient to impress my editor, Calvin Martinez. But I‟m working on it. I had a
meeting with him in his apartmentjust a brief discussion. He got me on a more
productive track than I was on before.”
Why had she hastened to reassure her ex-husband that she wasn‟t sleeping with another
man? He looked ruffled by the mention of Calvinjealous, maybe? “I‟d watch myself
around that guy if I were you. He‟s not too stable. Celia reads his stuff all the time for
information purposes. She says he‟s a classic paranoiac.”
“She doesn‟t know everybody‟s psyche,” protested Miriam. “I‟ve talked to him twice
now. Both times he was perfectlyrational.” Her mind ranged uncomfortably over
Calvin‟s history and recent work. “Of course, he‟s very intense about his beliefs. And
he‟s a walking contradiction. He used to be known for his luxurious lifestyle. Now, even
though he‟s taken a vow of poverty, he likes hanging out with respectable types,
including a reporter for the Post. But any minute he might turn around and scream that
the only solution for America is revolution, that the streets will one day run red with
white man‟s blood, and his paper is the only one with guts enough to say so. Does that
make him a schizoid in Celia‟s opinion?”
Jeff shrugged. “What does he have you investigating?”
“The sex life of Cass Paley,” said Miriam. She explained that after Cass‟s departure from
the Council, they had arranged to meet regularly at the Kramerkeller to stay in touch.
Last Friday night, Cass had revealed that her chances of meeting Larry Longford in a
meaningful way had brightened. Calvin was waiting for a report on Longford‟s intimate
life, but Miriam had nothing for him as yet. All she had learned was that Puck Cavenaugh
intended to introduce the quarterback to Cass on his radio program sometime this week.
Cass had been bubbling over with excitement, but also wracked with fear that she might
make a fool of herself “in front of the whole city.”
Jeff renewed his warnings against playing games with a volatile character like Calvin, but
was interrupted by the phone. Miriam, sensing a crisis, sprang for it. “Hiya Miriam,
howya doing,” said Bob, Jeff‟s closest friend at the Archives and Celia‟s most bitter
enemy. Bob was still a fixture on the Mall at noontimes, entertaining fellow lunchers and
joggers with impromptu monologues and emptying whole bottles of wine. Celia‟s last act
at the Archives had been to try to have him fired for drinking, but his supervisors never
caught him in the act.
“Sorry to disturb your date, but we‟ve got big-time problems here. The bitch burst in
about fifteen minutes ago and started tearing through the place looking for hubby. I made
up a story that he‟s on a break at one of the pubs, without specifying which one. I‟m
afraid if Jeff doesn‟t get back here soon, she might decide to go pub-hopping herself. And
then she‟ll find out I‟m lying, and come back and take my head off or something worse.”
“I‟m fine, Bob. How‟re you doing?” joked Miriam feebly.
“Sorry to be so abrupt, honey. Nothing makes me happier than the idea of my buddy
trysting with you while the bitch stews. He was an idiot to leave you for her, and he
knows it, but it‟s a little late for that. If he doesn‟t get back here on the double, with beer
on his breath and a plausible story”
“Come on, Bob. What‟s the worst thing she can do?”
Jeff took the phone at this point, and heard Bob‟s apparently bloody prediction. He hung
up, pulled on his jacket and kissed Miriam goodbye in one swift motion.
“Still think Calvin‟s the crazy one?” she inquired as she saw him out the door.

At the office next morning, Miriam sat at her desk, which still seemed like Cass‟s desk,
and assessed her situation. Minutes ago it had struck her that her giggly colleagues, Sally,
Ginny and Amelia, made a point of conducting their gossip barely out of her hearing. She
might construe this as respect for her new position, close to the Deputy Director, who
frowned on such frivolity. Or she might take it as a snub aimed at herself, a divorcée with
no apparent life, whose nose was always stuck in a book or newspaper at lunchtime, and
whose two best friends had left the Council.
If the bitches only knew, thought Miriam, they‟d envy my life. What‟s so great about
theirs? I suppose they‟re beside themselves with glee because Ginny has made inroads
with her boss that once seemed impossible. She‟s probably got the guy so confused he
doesn‟t know who or what he is. Maybe they‟d like to hear about my own liaisons. Or my
continuing ties to Jocelyn and Cass, who‟ve made lives for themselves since they left the
Miriam had convinced herself of her superiority to the gigglers and begun to relax, when
Mrs. Broadwater emerged from her office. The woman still gave Miriam the willies
every time she made a sudden appearance. “I‟d like to meet with you at two, if that‟s
convenient.” She didn‟t wait to confirm the appointment, but rushed out as if late for
something else. Miriam sighed and straightened up. She would need the next three hours
to steel herself for a one-on-one with Mrs. B.
She recalled the last time she had been summoned in such an abrupt fashion. She had had
the temerity to apply for the Program Assistant slot slated for Sally the Whisperer.
During that interview, she had received an earful about piled-up work and her failure to
develop a “partnership” with Renee. This time the circumstances felt different. She had
detected a sly smile on those prune lips, as if the boss believed she could “partner” with
Miriam. Hadn‟t they already teamed up, in a sense, to get rid of Renee?
These days Miriam was grateful for anyone in this place who would talk to her. Since the
“girls” wouldn‟t, she depended on Mrs. B, of all people, for a good morning greeting.
Better still were the stock room guys, who had a radio tucked away in their workspace,
and who loved to report breaking sports news. This was the only kind of outside news
that excited them, or Miriam.
Things were hopping on the Redskins front. Prior to last Sunday‟s game, Coach Rudman
had fanned the quarterback controversy by announcing that Larry Longford was almost
ready to return. A decision would be made based on Pete Spencer‟s performance in that
game. Against an inferior Divisional opponent that the undefeated Redskins should have
trampled, Spencer had barely pulled out a victory. Now every fan was on tenterhooks to
find out who would start next Sunday.
Only in Washington, Miriam assured her buddies, could a team with a seven and zero
record be wracked by dissension. Only the Redskins brain trust would beat itself up
because its victories were more thrilling than they had to be. Any decision to replace the
quarterback under such circumstances would be politically motivated. Darrell and Joe
were increasingly receptive to Miriam‟s theory that the Boxley-Bailey Texas cabal would
control the decision, and that Longford would be reinstated. The golden-haired boy
Spencer seemed to be gaining clout in the African American community, and not only
because he clicked so well on the field with the Redskins‟ fleetest receivers. His
inter-racial liaison with Lainie Palmer had sparked visions of the magnificent power
couple they would become if she were elected Mayor.
After Mrs. B had departed, Darrell slipped in. The stock room guys generally avoided the
Deputy Director, who had thus far sidestepped their formal requests to be promoted to the
next highest clerical level. There was only one black Program Officer at the Council and
one black secretary. They both worked in the African program, as if that were their
natural habitat. Miriam suspected gender as well as racial prejudice. None of the
higher-ups seemed to think a man could possibly be a secretary.
“The news just came across,” Darrell informed Miriam. “Longford‟s starting Sunday.
Stinks, doesn‟t it?”
“Damned fishy,” agreed Miriam. “Has Spencer said anything?”
“Not yet. I‟ll bet he holds a press conference later.”
Miriam returned to work and waited for another bulletin, and for the Deputy Director‟s
return. At lunchtime she buried her nose in The Free Paper as she munched a chicken
salad sandwich. Further news arrived before Mrs. B did. Miriam had alerted the guys to
check the Puck Cavenaugh show daily in case the host made good on his matchmaking
plans. That would be a show Miriam couldn‟t miss, unless a meeting with Mrs. B
conflicted. Shortly after two, Joe emerged from his quarters to report that Larry
Longford‟s scheduled appearance on the Cavenaugh show had been postponed. Puck had
claimed, no doubt with smug satisfaction, that his friend would be busy with game
preparations for the foreseeable future.
Poor Cass, thought Miriam. Will she ever get to meet the man of her dreams? What if
Cavenaugh strings her along just for publicity purposes? At least she‟s dug in her heels at
the Post, despite her public outburst against the paper. Either her bosses didn‟t take any
notice of it, or they actually believe in freedom of speech.
Two o‟clock had come and gone, and no Mrs. B. Miriam kept her Free Paper open on
her desk as she nursed a mild resentment. If Old Prune Face couldn‟t be bothered to keep
their appointment, she wouldn‟t feel guilty about sneaking in a few extra minutes of
reading. An announcement on the back page caught her eye. “Not getting your fill of
irresponsible rumor-mongering? Sick of journalistic standards? Check out our new web
page at This week‟s topic: The Redskins quarterback wars.”
Miriam tried to take this news calmly, but she was perturbed. Calvin on the Internet? He
would use it as a license to inflame public opinion on all his favorite topics. How dare he
trample journalistic standards when Miriam, for one, had tried so hard to convince him
they were sacred to her. The ad might be a joke, but still
She would check out that web page at the earliest opportunity. It was easy enough to visit
the supply room where Darrell and Joe had access to the most modern electronic
conveniences. Their jobs required it, since they were responsible for maintaining the list
of publications and services that appeared on the Council‟s home page, and for filling
e-mail orders. She was tempted to slip in there now, but forced herself to wait in case
Mrs. B came back.
It was close to two-thirty when the Deputy Director returned, looking more flushed than
Miriam had ever seen her. She took notice of Miriam on her way past only because the
secretary was staring at her, trying to decide whether she was elated or distraught. “Oh,
goodness, Miriam,” she breathed like a giddy girl, “where‟s my head? I forgot we were
supposed to talk this afternoon. Just give me five minutes to get organized, then come
into my office.”
By the time Miriam had seated herself before Mrs. B‟s desk, the woman had regained her
dignity. Miriam felt herself shrinking as usual before those beady eyes, but caught
herself. What did she have to apologize for or feel guilty about? At the moment there
were no neglected piles of folders weighing down her desk. So far this new job had been
a piece of cake. The other “girls” might murmur that she wasn‟t pulling her weight, but
that was Mrs. B‟s choice.
The Deputy Director sighed and glanced at her framed picture of President Bailey as if
for inspiration. How sad and absurd, thought Miriam, to have a photograph of a political
figure on your desk where your deceased husband should be. Miriam had been wondering
of late how serious her boss‟s youthful dalliance with Bailey had been. She had read an
archived newspaper article in the local library last weekend that cited Elaine Broadwater,
along with several other women, as former intimates of Bailey who now held positions in
government or quasi-government. Since these had been pre-marital relationships, and the
jobs were not highly visible ones, it seemed no close scrutiny had followed. As far as
anyone knew, Bailey had been a faithful husband for the past three decades. His behavior
toward old girlfriends, on the rare occasions when they were observed together, was
above reproach.
Miriam had never before pondered the womanly wiles of Elaine Broadwater; the idea
made her chuckle. But Mrs. B had always been a woman of secrets. Maybe that severe
cap of gray hair and that leathery face concealed a torrid past, or at least, a scheming
heart. And what about that near-blush she had displayed on returning from her extended
lunch hour?
“Miriam,” she intoned, “I‟d like to take a moment to discuss your situationand also the
current state of the Council, since those two topics are related.”
“They are?” Miriam knew she sounded inane, but this struck her as a startling statement.
“I‟ve been pleased with your progress these past few weeks, and I trust it‟ll continue.
That‟s why I‟m prepared to share some confidential information with you.”
Miriam straightened up in her seat as if to receive an earful of gossip. Her evident interest
made Mrs. B smile.
“It‟s not definite yet. But I‟ve heard that a leadership shakeup here at the Council is being
contemplated. I thought you should be forewarned because it might require a decision on
your part. If your work here continues to go well, I might ask you to move downstairs
with meinto the Director‟s office.”
“That would be a great honor.” Miriam‟s first thought was that she would still be a
secretary, no matter how exalted her location. How excited should she be? It hardly
seemed worth losing her easy access to the radio and the Internet.
“You know, I consider Director Wrightman a good friend and a fine public servant. He‟s
also a man of high ideals, which can easily get consumed in the day-to-day administrative
hassles of running an agency.” The Deputy Director seemed apologetic, as if she had
done in the Director. She must have blabbed to Bailey about his indiscreet speech at the
Palm Tree.
“So Director Wrightman is leaving.” Miriam made this a statement rather than a question.
“I‟ve been aware for some time that his eventual goal is to concentrate on the most
underdeveloped areas, particularly in Africa. There are other organizations that can
provide that sort of focus better than we can.”
No cushy vacation spots for him, thought Miriam with a surge of sympathy. “What about
Georgia Parker? Won‟t she want to keep the job of secretary to the Director?”
“If we decide that‟s the right position for you, and if she chooses to remain at the
Council, we‟ll find something for her up here.”
“That sounds great,” said Miriam. Here was the ultimate power trip, moving people
around like chess pieces.
“Any questions? Comments?” asked Mrs. B. Miriam tried to think of something halfway
intelligent to say, before her boss withdrew the tentative offer. As the secretary flailed,
she detected a trace of self-consciousness on Mrs. B‟s face. Could it be the Deputy
Director found herself as lonely in this office as Miriam? Would she spill some
confidences with a little prodding? Miriam had to fight down an impulse to ask her how
well she knew President Bailey. Maybe the girl talk would come later.
“Why don‟t you close the door, Miriam. I‟ve got something else to say, something that
should remain between us for now.”
Miriam got up with a pounding heart and closed the door. Mrs. B had her interested, but
why the secrecy? None of the gigglers who might be lurking outside would begrudge her
the position of secretary to the Director. They all hoped to attain at least
semi-professional titles, like their pal Sally, the newly minted Program Assistant. Miriam
shared their anti-secretarial bias. The top slave in the office, she reflected petulantly, was
still a slave.
“I‟ve been thinking ahead to the new kind of organization I‟d like to create, assuming I‟m
given the opportunity.” Mrs. B‟s glistening eyes began to entrance Miriam. “I‟ve been
concerned for some time about the stagnation I‟ve observed at the Council. This clearly
begins at the top; the Director‟s mind and heart have been elsewhere. But it extends to
every level. It‟s evident in our day-to-day activities, which I‟m sorry to say have fallen
into a rut. All of us, top management, program officers, secretaries and clerks alike, are
too inclined to stick to our job descriptionsto the letter of the law, you might say.
There‟s no creativity or initiative in that
. “The same is true of our grantee selection process. We don‟t do enough to recruit
scholars who are not only top flight in their academic fields, but who possess a coherent
world vision and the desire to promote that vision abroad. That‟s what I intend to build,
Miriama dynamic organization, inside and out. I‟m not content to dig a well or two in
the wilderness, like Daniel. His method might help to put out an occasional brush fire that
threatens American interests, but it‟s too slow for me. I want to overwhelm the world
with the superior force of our values. If that prospect interests you at all, I could use your
Miriam was dumbfounded. Mrs. B must have been dreaming for years about this shining
agency on a hill, although she had obtained the President‟s blessing within the last hour.
And now a mere secretary was being invited to share her dreamand perhaps to join her
in going beyond the letter of the law, whatever that might mean.
“Of course. It sounds great,” she said automatically as she pondered that phrase. She
relived the moment when she had torn open a filched envelope of checks to satisfy her
suspicion that Mrs. B could and would exceed official boundaries. Did the woman sense
what Miriam knew?
“I agree that we could all use morecreativity and initiative,” she added, while the
pertinent phrase rang like an alarm in her head. How could the Bailey-Broadwater
“coherent world vision” possibly suit her? Daniel Wrightman wanted to root out poverty,
one well at a time. Elaine Broadwater would prefer to flood the landscape with
wealth-creating schemes that benefited mainly the already wealthy. Fascism, screamed
Miriam‟s hypersensitive mind. Old Prune Face would plant scholars in places where they
could spread right-wing doctrine and prop up oligarchs. That poison would spread
through vulnerable societies, bringing to fruition the nightmare of a Covert War Council.
“I hope you‟re not planning to politicize the program any more than it already is.” That
was what Miriam would say if she were foolhardy and bravebut she wasn‟t. What else
could she do? Maybe latch onto Director Wrightman when he left for his version of
greener pastures? No, just stay put, gather intelligence on the new Director and pass on
all such discoveries to Calvin. Pleasing the editor would be her first choice. In time,
maybe this “coherent world vision” could be linked to bloody insurgencies or
counter-insurgencies abroad.
“This organizational change will be a difficult process, Miriam. It might require some
hard judgments about the personnel we currently have. But if we do it right, it might also
liberate us from our rigid office structure. I‟m determined to establish a program that
rewards innovation.”
Fine talk, thought Miriam. Show me some new and vital way of typing, filing and
answering phones.
“I plan to begin this process in my immediate office. My right hand person will have to
be someone who transcends the traditional secretarial role.”
“Oh, really? How?” ventured Miriam.
“I intend to establish a new position, Executive Assistant to the Director. The starting
salary will be commensurate with the Program Assistant position, but the duties will be
more flexible and comprehensive. They‟ll depend on my needs at any given time, and the
abilities of the person I select.”
Miriam felt herself knocked a-kilter. She estimated that an Executive Assistant to the
Director could go much farther than a Program Assistant. How the girls would bitch and
moan when she bypassed them. And Cass, who was floundering at the Post, would curse
the day she ever gave up her position at the Council.
“You realize, of course, there‟ll be competition for that position. But if we continue to
work together successfully in the coming weeks, you‟ll have the inside track.”
“I appreciate that,” said Miriam, trying to counteract the woman‟s reservations with
firmness. What a nice ring that title had to it. For the first time, Miriam envisioned a real
career at the Council. Would it endanger her chances as an underground reporter if she
got comfortable here?
Worse, what if she grew to like and admire Mrs. B? She would have to chuck her
long-cherished cynicism. At least the woman believed in somethingand besides, who
could say right-wing ideals were necessarily bad? Did they lead inevitably to bloodshed
and mayhem?
“I‟d just like to express my opinion, Mrs. Broadwater, that if given the chance, I‟ll make
a terrific Executive Assistant to the Director.”
Once dismissed, Miriam propelled herself out of the inner office on a whirlwind of
emotions. She was satisfied that she had made her case forcefully enough, but had she
been too eager and girlish? In her distraction, she nearly barreled into the Director on his
way inno doubt to plead his own issues before the suddenly all-powerful Deputy


                  CHAPTER ELEVEN: A Toehold on Power

Two weeks passed, and Miriam had not become even a prospective Executive Assistant,
although she redoubled her efforts to act professional on the job. She had volunteered for
extra work, and Mrs. Broadwater had obliged by allowing her not only to type but also to
write some of the official correspondence. This was challenging work, since it covered
the gamut from Congressional inquiries to Freedom of Information requests from the
public to complaints from disgruntled rejects. Miriam sweated over her phrases, and
sometimes worked through lunch and well past five o‟clock to get them right. The letters
met with Mrs. B‟s approval, but apparently did not guarantee promotion or even special
treatment. By the second week, Miriam became aware that the “secret” Mrs. B
supposedly had shared with her exclusively had been cast farther a-field. She had seen
both Ginny and Amelia slip into the Deputy Director‟s office for appointments that were
not on the official calendar.
Whatever had made her think she could trust Old Prune Face not to jerk her around after
their “confidential” talk? It was lousy behavioralthough it could be the one-time
girlfriend of Monroe Bailey was being jerked around herself. Director Wrightman had yet
to budge from his second-floor office. Where was the Presidential shove that would send
him packing? Mrs. B must be ready to scream bloody murder.
Miriam discovered advantages to being situated near the stock room during this time of
bureaucratic paralysis. The radio and the Internet brought news of upheaval in the outside
world. Calvin‟s web page was a major instigator. Encouraged by Darrell and Joe, Miriam
had stolen a few moments one afternoon to check out his barbs, intended to whip up next
Sunday‟s Boxley Stadium crowd. “Football fans of D. C.: I‟m telling you, this is your
team. Don‟t let some billionaire Texas oil mogul with his White House connection
manipulate you. That sports-political-business complex of theirs depends on your
support, your entertainment dollar, your cheers and jeers. So make it loud and clear to
them next Sunday how you feel about the decrepit quarterback they‟re shoving down
your throats, just because he‟s one of them. Don‟t sit for it.”
“What does he mean, „don‟t sit for it?‟” Miriam asked the guys, who shrugged and
grinned in reply. Apparently it could mean anything, depending on the temperament of
the individual fan.
Respected media outlets like the Post picked up hints of Calvin‟s campaign. This ensured
that Miriam and the rest of the city would be revved up by the time Sunday‟s game
kicked off with Larry Longford still the starter, despite last week‟s ugly loss. The kickoff
itself was a prelude to disaster. Longford was in a hole, 7-0, before he touched the ball.
His first possession, which started on his own 20-yard-line, netted negative yardage. As
he lay on the ground after a sack, the overriding sentiment in the stadium was that he
ought to remain on the turf, but no chance. Longford, as everyone knew, wasn‟t a man
who would stay down even if he were unconscious.
Miriam added to the civil unrest, although she did it from the solitude of her apartment.
She paced in front of the TV, sometimes giving way to fits of anger as the Redskins
continued to struggle. After a costly dropped pass, she threw the TV remote and damaged
it. It was then that she took herself in hand. These rages, she realized, were misplaced
anger. She had fallen into a trap of Sunday solitude, which she accepted too readily
because of the prospect of company for Monday night football. But this was only a
prospect, not a promise. Jeff might or might not show up tomorrow night. He had warned
her that these get-togethers wouldn‟t always be feasibleand that he might not know
until the last minute, and might be unable to get word to her.
Miriam could hardly believe that she had succumbed to the no-win life of a paramour.
But it had happened, now that a portion of her life hinged on what her married lover
would do. She would be better off hitting the nearest bar than stewing at home, counting
on a big time tomorrow night. Here she hit a familiar snag. None of the beer guzzlers she
had met at any neighborhood sports pub had so much as aroused herwhereas her
ex-husband was the most exciting lover she had ever had.
Each of their encounters had been haunted by a third party. Miriam couldn‟t resist
pumping her ex for information about his current wife: her job, her skills as a mother, her
ability to control Jeff in ways that Miriam never could. She tried to experience the White
House job vicariously. Celia‟s most creative moments, like her own, were spent drafting
correspondence. But doing that job for Presidential aides made you a mover and shaker.
Sometimes when Jeff complained about his wife‟s abrasiveness, Miriam defended her: a
woman in her position had to be strong. Miriam restored Jeff‟s manhood as best she
could before returning him to the great emasculator.
Sometimes Jeff turned the tables and asked her about Calvin Martinez. Miriam protested
that she had not even slept with the editornot yet. “First I gotta find him a big story.
Then we‟ll see.” They titillated one another with wild speculations that Celia could help
her get that story by introducing her to the President. “Yeah, right, Jeff. Why don‟t you
ask her tonight when you get home? „Hey, honey, how about sneaking my ex-wife into
the inner sanctum? She wants to find out if the President‟s as big an SOB as she thinks.‟”
Miriam continued to ponder her strange post-marriage and its crosscurrents. Only
monumental events on live television shook her out of her reverie. As the seconds ticked
off to halftime, the Redskins were reeling, 21-3, and Boxley Stadium appeared to be on
The cameras caught a good twenty seconds of the outbreak before the network went to
commercial. It was too late to deny a large viewing public the sight of two figures
burning in effigy: team owner Boxley and President Bailey, the perpetrators of an evil
“sports-political-business complex.” Calvin‟s theme of the week, “Don‟t sit for it,” was
being taken literally. Fans swarmed out of their seats in an effort to get at the team‟s
decision-makers. A dozen or so charged the owner‟s box, while down below, another
contingent leaped over the rails near the Redskins‟ bench. Security forces in both places
were quick to turn back the threat, but nothing could make the people sit for the status
quo. They stayed on their feet, demanding an appearance from Pete Spencer, until the
half ended.
As the game resumed, the announcers alternated between taking the matter seriously and
laughing it off. “It‟s a Washington fad. Watching football has become a contact sport.”
Comparisons were made to a similar scene on that memorable Monday night several
weeks ago, when the President had been there and the Secret Service had pacified the
uprising. While that incident had played out before a larger TV audience, this one had
encompassed more of the crowd at Boxley Stadium, and the network had been slower to
pull the plug. Today the city had gotten a good look at the fire and the mob, making it
harder to sweep the riot under the rug. But no one identified Calvin as an instigator, since
the TV cameras never located him.
The announcers, more pedestrian than the Monday night ones, nevertheless considered
the kind of precedent that would be set if Spencer started the second half. It would look
like the crowd forced the decision, although it was equally clear that Longford had been
in considerable distress as he dragged himself off the field. He never gritted his teeth and
grimaced for public consumption if he could help it. If he were injured, that was one
thing. But what if fans everywhere got the idea that coaching decisions could be made by
popular choice? As the rest of the game unfolded, and Miriam watched the Redskins pull
off a hair-raising comeback spurred by Pete Spencer, she realized that the rabble had
turned out to be right.

Miriam returned to the office Monday morning to find three letters on her desk from
hostile rejects, requiring the most diplomatic of replies. “Pls. let me have draft responses
by noon,” commanded the attached note. Another hoop to jump through, but Miriam
relished proving herself as a writer.
The phone left her alone for the most part. It was not the curse it had been at her last post;
the public rarely even tried to get through to Elaine Broadwater. If someone got this far
by mistake, it was Miriam‟s job to deflect it back to the appropriate Program Officer‟s
secretary. She took smug pleasure in dumping these louts on one of the “girls” while
trying to placate the same type in writing. The calls Miriam put through to her boss, or
took messages for, were select and few: successful applicants, an occasional
Congressional aide, and the Director, although he had fallen mostly silent.
The call that interrupted her at 10:30 came as a welcome respite. “Miriam, guess what?”
exclaimed Cass. “Puck Cavenaugh called again. He says it‟s definitely on this time. I‟m
supposed to meet Larry Longford this Wednesday on his show.”
“My God. You mean Cavenaugh‟s still pushing that? After Longford‟s practically been
run out of town? Honey, I don‟t see how it can lead to anything good. Longford could be
in a nasty mood and take it out on you. I‟d back out if I were you.”
“How can I back out? Puck‟s already promoted it on the air. Besides, you know how
much I‟ve always wanted to meethim. If I chickened out now, when I‟m so close to
that goal, I‟d never forgive myself. Can‟t you understand that?”
Of course Miriam could. Hadn‟t she gone to excruciating lengths to meet Calvin? She
melted at the thought of those muscular, hairy arms that had almost held her, that devilish
grin that had teased her. Cass‟s passion for a red-faced, paunchy quarterback seemed less
comprehensible, but the same principle applied. Women must meet their idols by any
means available.
“Far be it from me to discourage young love, Cass. I just hope you won‟t be too
disappointed if nothing comes of it.”
“Oh, I‟m prepared for that,” said Cass unconvincingly. “I know he‟s already engaged to
that cocktail waitress. I‟ll be satisfied if I keep my nerve and say the right things on the
radio. That‟s the whole point of my meeting him, you knownot to make a pass at him,
but to represent all the fans who still believe in him, who don‟t think he‟s washed up,
who‟ll stand by him.”
And who‟ll sleep with him willingly, even if all the cocktail waitresses in town desert
him. Aloud, Miriam said, “Rest assured, I‟ll be listening to that show if I possibly can.
Give me a call afterwards.”
“I will. Wish me luck, okay?”
She sounded so insecure that Miriam regretted her cynicism. “You know I do. In fact, I‟ll
go out on a limb and predict you‟re gonna make some kind of impression on Longford.
Don‟t strain yourself to dazzle him, just be yourself. If you can relax around him, he‟ll
like you just fine.”
Miriam wasn‟t so sure of this herself, but Cass responded, “Bless you for saying that,
hon. I‟ll fill you in as soon as I can.”
After her conversation with Cass, Miriam felt pumped up about her toehold on power.
The title Executive Assistant to the Director might have eluded her so far, but she
enjoyed some clout as Secretary to the Deputy Director; the phone was her friend. She
made a mental list of people she could call while her boss was out.
She deposited her drafts on Mrs. B‟s desk at fifteen minutes before noon. At 12:15, after
she had wolfed down her usual sandwich, she punched in Pamela Whittle‟s University
number, but got no answer. Since this was the second time she had failed to make contact
at lunchtime, she suspected a snub.
Miriam vowed to cross up the professor. At one o‟clock she tried again and heard the
familiar barked greeting. “Hello, Professor Whittle, this is Miriam Cooper. It‟s been a
while since we talked, and I just wanted to get back in touch. How are you?”
“None of your business.”
“Boy, you‟re in a mood.” Miriam resolved to treat the professor‟s irascibility as part of
her humor. “What‟s the problem?”
“You‟re barking up the wrong tree, dearie. I‟m not gonna be part of your racket.”
“Racket?” Miriam was all innocence. “I just called to say hello.”
“Bullshit. You‟ve been poking around the funny files in your office again. I hear that
weasely sound in your voice.”
“Honestly, Professor, I‟m just trying to make a friendly overture. I don‟t even deal with
those files much anymore, now that I‟m Secretary to the Deputy Director. I thought I‟d
let you know about my new position, in case you tried to get in touch with me at my old
desk and couldn‟t find me. No ulterior motives, Professor.”
“And that‟s another suspicious thing about youthe way you keep calling me Professor
as if it were some kinda sacred title. Sounds rather mealy-mouthed and pompous, after
we‟ve partied together and plotted the overthrow of the Peace Council together and God
knows what else that‟s probably slipped my mind.”
“You‟re tweaking me again,” said Miriam. “I just meant to be respectfulProfessor. I‟m
waiting for you to tell me to call you by your first name.” She paused, but Whittle
declined to do it.
“Was that all you wanted?”
“Yes. Well, I also wanted to remind you about another big party coming upthe
fundraiser for Lainie Palmer‟s Mayoral campaign at the Kramerkeller on Monday
evening, November twenty-first. Remember the flyer for that fundraiser I left on the bar
at the Palm Tree? The one that sent Puck Cavenaugh into a tizzy? I‟m betting this won‟t
be any typical fundraiser.”
“You think it‟s gonna be some kind of blowout?” Whittle‟s hard voice betrayed some
“Maybe. And since I‟m tight with one of the co-owners of the Kramerkeller, I can
guarantee you a place of honor that night.” Miriam had inflated Jocelyn‟s credentials, as
well as presumed on their friendship. She would call Jocelyn immediately after this
conversation ended and make sure she could reserve at least two places at the main table.
“I don‟t know. Now that I‟ve lunched at the Palm Tree, slumming at the Kramerkeller
seems beneath me.”
“I‟ve lunched at the Palm Tree too,” protested Miriam, “and I still slum at the
Kramerkeller. Don‟t forget, it‟s a chance to meet a woman who could be elected Mayor a
year from now. It‟s possibly an historic event, much bigger than any snotty Palm Tree
“All right, already, you‟ve made your point. I‟m beginning to think I could use you in my
Introduction to American Politics class where the blowhards always get extra credit.
Which reminds medidn‟t you say this fundraiser was on a Monday night? Sorry, but
that‟s a teaching night for me.”
“Why not bring your class to the Kramerkeller on a field trip?” Miriam was stunned by
her own inspiration.
“Now, that‟s the most original idea I‟ve heard all day. It might even be worth
considering. Sometimes you‟re smarter than you sound, dearie.”
“Thank you. I‟ll take that as a compliment. Bring along all your blowhards. I‟m sure
Jocelyn will say the more the merrier. But I also hope you and I will get a chance to talk
“That sounds suspicious. Why?”
“Well, because we haven‟t talked for awhile, and”
“You said that already. And I already told you I don‟t believe your bullshit about not
having an ulterior motive. You think you‟re gonna sit me down at your table that night
and ply me with that cheap wine and I‟m gonna spill all kinds of beans.”
“I had no thoughts of plying you,” said Miriam. “I just thought we could have some fun
at the club like we did last time. Besides, I‟ve pretty much given up on investigating the
“Smart girl. There was never anything much at your Council to investigate, if you ask
me. Your check scandal turned out to be a dry well, didn‟t it? Your office soap operas are
petty stuff too. Your Director is basically a straight arrow and your Deputy Director isn‟t
crooked enough for anybody to notice. If I were you, I‟d be grateful to be working for a
pretty decent organization.”
“Oh, I am. I‟m in a new position, as I said, and I‟m working on a real promotion”
“Great, fabulous. Look, I gotta run, I have students waiting. Thanks so much for keeping
me informed. I might be talking to you soon, or I might not.”
Whittle hung up hard on this difficult yet productive conversation. Miriam realized she
had caught the professor on the run and unguarded. What were these “beans” she was
determined not to spill? And when did Wrightman become such a straight arrow? The
scandal that Miriam had almost shunted aside now returned to the forefront of her mind,
with a revised plot and cast. As before, it would revolve around a funny filethis one
belonging to a new recruit in the African program.
And where would the African files be found right now, given that the Director took a
special interest in that area? Sandy, the secretary at the African desk, would be stuck with
the rejects for sure, but would she still have the acceptances at this point? Those might be
somewhere en route to Wrightman‟s office, if they hadn‟t arrived there already. Should
Miriam track down the files and wrestle them away from whoever had current custody of
themshort of invading the Director‟s office? Or should she pause to collect her
thoughts before creating a possible ruckus?
Deciding on the latter, she punched in the office number at the Kramerkeller. Heinz
Kramer answered the phone, sounding as if he had just awoken.
“Hi, Heinz, this is Miriam.” Her name aroused no recognition, so she pressed on, “Is
Jocelyn around?”
“I dunno. Maybe.”
Miriam waited, but nothing else was forthcoming. “Would you mind checking? I‟d like
to speak to her.”
Heinz left the phone, and Miriam waited a good five minutes. But when Jocelyn came on
the line, she seemed as full of life as ever. “Miriam, sweetie, how goes it?”
“Pretty frantic, but okay. How about you?”
“Frantic isn‟t the word for it. Insane is more like it. I‟ve been meaning to sit down and
have a decent talk with you, but this place has exploded. Ever since word got out about
our fundraiser for Lainie Palmer, business at night has doubled at least. I know you
noticed that the last Friday night you were here, but it isn‟t only weekends, it‟s most
nights of the week. Even lunchtime has picked up. We‟re getting major publicity, I kid
you not, and it‟s gonna build and build. If we get credit for helping to elect a Mayor,
we‟ll be immortalized, don‟t you think? It‟s the first time in our history we‟ve ever taken
reservations for anything, and we‟re already almost full for the fundraiser. Actually, we‟ll
be more than fullI predict we‟ll spill out on the streets that night.”
Jocelyn rattled on about the possibility of inviting local celebrities to share the owner‟s
table with her. These luminaries remained unidentified, yet seemed real and numerous
enough in Jo‟s mind to crowd out her ordinary friends. Her self-absorption grew
alarmingly. Now that she smelled fame and glory, she was spoiled for everything else.
She became so wound up about her fundraiser that she seemed to forget who she was
talking tonot that Miriam could have gotten in a word edgewise. Jocelyn proclaimed
herself the catalyst for a great youth movement that would bring together, all in one
night, the great currents of life: politics, football, the press, rock and roll.
“Jo, have you absolutely confirmed the main attractions for that night?” Miriam finally
interjected. “Like the band, the candidate, the candidate‟s boyfriend?”
“Christ, yes.” Jocelyn sounded annoyed. “Why can‟t you believe this is gonna happen?
I‟ve talked to Nick three or four times during this tour. He calls after midnight, or
whenever his show‟s over. I‟ve gotten him to commit to a play list for the fundraiser.
He‟s even working on a new song for the occasion. Does that reassure you at all?”
“I guess so.” Miriam was almost convinced in spite of herself. “What kind of song‟s he
“It‟s called The Ballad of Lainie, and he‟s gonna debut it probably as the encore
number.” As Jocelyn‟s voice softened, Miriam followed her thought processes
effortlessly. By encore time, Jo planned to have her old lover back in her thrall. He might
dedicate his masterpiece to Lainie, but his eyes would lock with Jo‟s while he was
singing it. A night of passion would follow, which might pay dividends for her future.
Moving on to politics, Jo insisted that she had confirmed with Lainie‟s campaign
manager every detail of the candidate‟s scheduled appearance. Negotiations, she hinted,
had been hot and heavy. Miriam began to despair of finding a place for herself in this
fevered scenario.
Then came one of Jocelyn‟s stunning about-faces. “Listen, Miriam, don‟t let me forget to
thank you for what you did. You‟re completely, solely responsible for the first wave of
publicity we got. Remember those flyers I asked you to pass out at the Palm Tree?”
“Well, sure, I”
“I guess you know that idiot Puck Cavenaugh got hold of one, and started spouting off
about the band and Lainie on the radio. I kid you not, he gave us the biggest boost we
could possibly have gotten. I‟ve talked to a ton of people who say they first heard about
the fundraiser from Puck Cavenaugh.”
“Great,” said Miriam, “but doesn‟t that worry you the least bit?”
“Why should it?”
“Think about it, Jo. Why would Cavenaugh‟s listeners be gungho about a fundraiser for
Lainie Palmer?”
“Get real, Miriam,” snapped Jocelyn. “You oughta know half his audience only listens to
him for laughs. Besides, once something gets on the radio it spreads everywhere by word
of mouth or Internet or whatever. Tons of people are gonna show up that night to take a
stand against Cavenaugh‟s bigotry.”
“Well, maybe. I just hope you don‟t attract a weird right-wing element at the same time.”
“Whoever comes, I‟ll handle them. Now, listen, Miriam, I gotta run. In case I don‟t get to
talk to you again before the twenty-first, I want you here no later than six that night, so I
can park you at my table. And don‟t forget to bring Cass. I want both my buddies next to
me all night long.”
You had to admire the flower child‟s big heart. Miriam, ashamed of her grousing,
promised to be at Jocelyn‟s side that night and forever. In the glow of friendship, she
declared her agreement that the twenty-first would be everything Jo expected it to be.
When she hung up, she felt renewed to take on her own adversaries.
There must be some way to blast through the office thicket. Miriam reflected that Sally,
since her promotion, had been throwing her weight around as the secretaries‟ informal
supervisor. She had been collecting from them the files of successful candidates, and
getting in touch with many of the new grantees. Miriam transferred her phone line to
Sally and stalked down the corridor to the Program Assistant‟s new cubicle, which
appeared larger by several square feet than the secretaries‟ cubicles.
“Excuse me for interrupting, Sally, but I need to know right away where the African
acceptances are.”
Sally took the phone from her ear and covered it with her hand. “What do you need them
“For Mrs. Broadwater, of course.”
She thought Sally would get rid of her quickly by giving her what she needed. Instead the
Whisperer held up a hand to silence her while she wrapped up a conversation. She hung
up and frowned at Miriam.
“I can‟t just hand files over to you. I have to know what you need them for.”
“It‟s Mrs. Broadwater who needs them.” Miriam felt the earth quake beneath her feet.
She never had been an effective liar. “Are you gonna tell the Deputy Director she can‟t
have the files she wants?”
“No,” said Sally. “Of course she has a right to them.” But Sally continued to ponder, and
Miriam continued to sweat.
“Actually, I only need one of them,” wheedled Miriam. “If I could just look through your
pile and pull out”
This was a mistake. Sally jumped to her feet as if to throw herself between Miriam and
her files. “I‟ll have to get back to you on this.”
“Honestly, I just need to look at one file,” said Miriam. “Why make such a big deal out of
“It might be a big deal. I‟ll call you as soon as I find out what this is all about.”
Miriam left Sally‟s cubicle with a flushed face and a pounding heart. She returned to the
Deputy Director‟s suite and went straight to the coffee pot. Was this her third or fourth
cup of the day? She had lost track. Her automatic response to stress was to pour more fuel
on the flames. Her nervousness increased with each sip, until she could barely sit down at
her desk, much less figure out what she would say when Mrs. B confronted her about her
strange request.
There must be some way to pass off the episode as a misunderstanding, but her mind was
in upheaval. She tried to fix her thoughts on something soothing and calming. A cold
six-pack of beer, fresh out of the fridge, came to mind. She replenished herself in
imagination, until this seemed the answer to all her perplexities. After work she would
stop at the grocery store and pick up one (or maybe two) six-packs to share with Jeff
while they watched Monday night football.
Suppose he didn‟t show up tonight? This was a fifty-fifty proposition at best. The thought
of drinking alone while waiting on tenterhooks for him sent her mood plummeting again.
Unacceptable, she decided. I don‟t want to load up with beer unless I know he‟s coming.
But with the state of my nerves, how will I ever get through the evening without
drinking? I‟ll end up in a bar somewhere with a bunch of pawing drunks.
Definitely unacceptable. She would call Jeff at the office, although she disliked doing it,
and try to extract a commitment for tonight. She punched in the number, hoping that she
could do this discreetly. If too many of Jeff‟s co-workers found out that his first wife was
calling him, how long before his volatile second wife found out?
A familiar, unprofessional voice said, “Declassification. Help ya?” Thank God it was
Bob, their mutual friend, who would keep this under wraps because he hated Celia. “Hi,
Bob,” said Miriam. “Is Jeff around?”
“Oh, hiya, Miriam. Sorry, I think he‟s in the stacks somewhere. Can‟t get him out right
now. It‟s date night tonight, right? I‟ll have him call you back at the first opportunity.”
While Miriam waited for Jeff‟s call, Mrs. B came in with a grimace on her face and
disappeared into her office. Miriam, who had worked so industriously all morning that
she had little to do now, could only sit and wait for a storm to descend upon her head.
A jittery hour passed. Miriam pretended to be busy sifting through a pile of post-grant
reports submitted by last year‟s grantees, which she was supposed to file. The Deputy
Director‟s door remained closed, so Miriam could only guess whether Sally had reached
her on her private line. If only Jeff would come through with the promise of a good time
tonight. Why was he taking so long to call?
I‟ll call him again, she thought. No, I won‟t. The last thing he needs is a hysterical
ex-wife on the phone. Be patient, don‟t blow it. Make him long to see you.
Finally, at 3:30, she heard his uncertain yet affectionate voice. “I‟m gonna try to get there
tonight, barring an emergency.”
There were bound to be emergencies in the life of a cheating husband. But Miriam
betrayed no resentment as she purred, “I‟m thinking about getting a couple of six-packs
for tonight. I‟m so thirsty, I could demolish one by myself right now.”
“I hope that‟s not the only treat we have to look forward to.”
“I‟m sure it won‟t be.” She continued in this suggestive vein, working up to a mild form
of phone sex. Naturally, that was the moment Mrs. B chose to stalk out of her office,
papers in hand. “Talk to you later,” Miriam concluded.
The Deputy Director slapped the papers down in front of Miriam, as if they contained
something offensive. “Please set these drafts up in final and have them ready for my
signature before close of business today.” She paused, then added, “Good job on these.”
“Thank you.” Miriam‟s relief was immense. “I‟ll get them back to you right away.”
On the point of retreat, Mrs. B stopped and turned back toward Miriam with a reflective
look. Oh God, thought Miriam, here it comes. What‟s my story? I never settled on one.
Should I forestall any accusations by apologizing? I promise, Mrs. Broadwater, never
again to stick my nose in any funny files.
“It‟s time to start planning a luncheon for the second cycle grantees, the ones who‟re
leaving in mid-January or later. You might as well use the same invitation letter as
before. I‟ll give you the list of invitees, and the exact date, tomorrow.”
“The Palm Tree again?” ventured Miriam.
The Deputy Director gave her a look. “Yes, the Palm Tree again.” She turned on her heel
and executed a swift departure.
Miriam breathed easier as she pondered this new development. So the “second cycle”
was to be wined and dined like the first this year. For once there was enough money in
the budget for two Council blowouts. Director Wrightman, supposedly on his way out,
had managed to insist that his favorite grantees, the third world types, be treated as
equals. Not only was that justice, but it could be a boon for Miriam. She would have a
right to grab up those African files if they represented soon-to-be honored guests.
Miriam got through the rest of the afternoon with relative ease, anticipating the beer
brawl to come. She pitied the co-workers for whom Mondays were invariably grim
because Monday nights were nothing special. They didn‟t know the challenge of packing
a week‟s worth of living into one night.
If all went well, maybe Jeff would commit to future Monday nightsand not just
football nights. She reached into her desk drawer, underneath a pile of Free Papers, and
pulled out one of Jocelyn‟s flyers. She would give this to Jeff in hopes of whetting his
interest in the fundraiser two weeks from tonight. On further reflection, she pulled out
several more flyers. She would suggest that he spread them around the Archivesor give
them to Bob, who could pass them out on the Mall or in the neighborhood pubs at
What if Celia got hold of one? Miriam chuckled at the possibility, considering the second
wife‟s access to the White House. Could the thing somehow end up on the President‟s
desk? The ruckus it had created on the radio might pale before a Presidential explosion.
Miriam welcomed that prospect, although she had hidden these flyers from her own boss.
She burst out of the office at 5:30 and rushed home to get ready. She showered to calm
her coffee nerves, then threw on a T-shirt and jeans. At the grocery store, while she was
checking out with the beer and oversized pretzels, she looked at her watch: still only
seven o‟clock. Slow down, she told herself. It‟s two hours until kickoff, and there‟s no
guarantee he‟ll show up then or at all.
Miriam tried to nurse a single beer, pretzel and salad until game time, while reading the
Post. None of this was particularly calming. At eight o‟clock she succumbed to a second
beer, but her anxiety continued to mount. Minutes ticked by, and then an hour, and still
no Jeff. The idea of calling him at his research post was unthinkablehis wife might be
therebut it was growing irresistible. At the point when she felt she couldn‟t stand
another minute of this suspense, she heard the echoing sound of his feet on the stairway
outside her door, and her evening was salvaged.
They made passionate love, fueled by long gulps of beer and predictable heroics on the
screen. Afterward, they sat up and amused themselves with wild speculation as they
devoured their junk repast of dough and salt. Jeff chuckled at the flyers. “Sure, I‟ll pass a
few aroundat the office, not at home. Celia already knows about that fundraiser. Seems
it‟s been discussed at her office. I wouldn‟t want to aggravate her by showing her an ad
for it.”
“What‟s the worst thing she could do?” asked Miriam.
“I don‟t know, but she‟s already mentioned some plan pretty near the top to get the
Kramerkeller closed down.”
“Why?” sputtered Miriam. “What does she even know about the place? Has she ever
been there?”
“She wouldn‟t be caught dead there. But she knows it‟s Calvin Martinez‟s hangout, and
he‟s a major thorn in the Administration‟s side.”
“Maybe so, but he has his First Amendment rights, doesn‟t he? And Heinz and Jocelyn
have a right to run their establishment any way they see fit, as long as it‟s legal. What can
the Administration do about that?”
“Dunno, but I wouldn‟t underestimate the creativity of the Bailey White House. Judging
by my wife‟s shoptalk, quite a few strange ideas get vetted there. It‟s all theoretical, and
it‟s being filtered through her colorful mind, but she thinks Bailey isn‟t satisfied with
being President. He wants to be a warrior king.”
“I thought Celia was just an underling in the correspondence unit,” said Miriam. “What
does she know about Bailey‟s psyche?”
“She‟s struck up a friendship with him.” Jeff‟s tone conveyed both pride and perplexity.
“I think she‟s in love. And as for himwell, according to her, he‟s just living up to his
reputation with women. He‟s always befriended tough broads like her and remained a
perfect gentleman. Instead of having sex with them, he pumps their brains. He asks them
for imaginative solutions to all his problems.”
“What‟s she advising him to do?” demanded Miriam. “Declare martial law, so he can
close nightclubs he doesn‟t like?”
“It‟s not so farfetched. Bailey‟s always been fond of the military, like so many politicians
who avoided serving themselves. I think if he gets a chance to call out the troops, on
whatever pretext, it‟ll be the happiest day of his life. And Celia would have orgasms over
“Bailey may need to prove his manhood,” said Miriam, “but I don‟t understand why
Celia needs to prove hers.”
Miriam regretted broaching this topic when she saw Jeff begin to ponder the quandary of
his second wife. She diverted him by picturing aloud a half-crazed Monroe Bailey as
warrior king. Jeff did not doubt that the White House was capable of perpetrating
atrocities against its citizens. For example, the Administration might hire some of
Calvin‟s Mexican enemies to gun him down, making it look like a drug deal gone bad. A
plot could be hatched to blow up the Kramerkeller during the fundraiser, and plant
evidence to make it look like the volatile co-owners had done it themselves. If enough
random violence occurred, the President would declare martial law and pass it off as an
act of benevolence.
“I think it‟s only fair to warn you,” added Jeff drunkenly, “that sometimes when my
wife‟s in a talkative mood, she drops rumors about things the President particularly hates.
Among them, the Peace Council.”
“Tell me what you heard,” ordered Miriam.
“According to her, your agency is Bailey‟s pet joke. His plan is to either shut it down or
reorganize it beyond recognition. I shouldn‟t be telling you this confidential stuff, but I
thought you better be prepared to bail out.”
“But I‟m part of the reorganization, as far as I know,” said Miriam. “I figure it‟s a plus
working directly with Elaine Broadwater. After all, she‟s one of Bailey‟s broads.” They
roared with laughter over that phrase. But Miriam‟s glee subsided into nervous giggles as
she considered what she had learned in the office that day. Wrightman‟s favorite grantees
were to be wined and dined on an equal footing with the others. That might mean he had
engaged Mrs. B in a power struggle, and had achieved at least a partial victory.
“Maybe if the Peace Council changes its name officially to the Covert War Council, the
President will let us survive,” said Miriam. “That‟s a nickname that seems to be gaining
currency. Jo used it one day on the phone with a rejected scholar, which helped get her
fired. Later that same reject turned his fortunes around like magic by kissing up to the
Deputy Director.” Miriam pondered the amazing Dr. Phillip Weston.
“Maybe he liked the alternative name better,” said Jeff. “It‟s a helluva lot stronger.”
Miriam and Jeff tried to imagine how a shameless Covert War Council would operate. A
quick conversion to a war footing seemed easy and natural. Already, they decided, certain
trusted grantees at sensitive posts were working with the Administration to suppress
“undesirables” and aid “freedom fighters.” Other grantees, Miriam believed, were being
kept in the dark about the true Council. She envisioned an idealistic third worlder arriving
at his or her post in Nigeria or Congo, only to be swallowed up in a convenient outbreak
of civil war or genocide. Bailey would preside over the unfortunate grantee‟s funeral with
great pomp and eloquenceand use the tragedy as an excuse to send in U. S. troops.
“Grantees could be slain like sheep at Bailey‟s whim,” declared Miriam, “and there
would always be an airtight official explanation.”
The fantasizing began to wind down as the football game proved to be a predictable
blowout. The Presidential perfidies they had cooked up seemed so possible that they were
almost banal. Miriam wasn‟t sure how many of the empty beer cans she was responsible
for; probably she had outdone Jeff, who had to drive home and act reasonably sober in
front of his wife. She would have a royal headache and upset stomach tomorrow
morning. The evening had been worth it; still, this binge drinking had to stop.
As they kissed good night, they regarded one another uncertainly. Suddenly Miriam
shivered. “So do you think Celia‟s out to get me or something?” She forced a chuckle.
“Why‟s she trying to do in my main haunts, the Council and the club?”
“I never said she had that much power,” said Jeff. “I‟m just saying, better be prepared to
defend them.” He disappeared into the night.


                      CHAPTER TWELVE: The Hot Files

On Tuesday morning, despite feeling predictably half ill, Miriam breezed into the office
and plunged into business. She intended to get ahead in her work today, so that barring
any emergencies tomorrow, she could take time off to listen to Cass‟s scheduled
performance on the Puck Cavenaugh show. As she approached the coffee pot outside
Mrs. B‟s office, she saw the door fly open. The Director tossed a parting shot at the
Deputy Director: “I‟ll be out of your hair in about two weeks, God willing.”
“God willing, nothing. I‟ll see to it,” replied Mrs. B. Then she let out a wicked chuckle.
“Who would have thought that Daniel Wrightman, the prince of idealistic bureaucrats,
could be bought out?”
“I‟m selling out to serve a better cause,” said Wrightman, his dignity intact, “which
includes getting away from you. Six years locked in bureaucratic hell can feel like an
The Director hurried out of the Deputy Director‟s sight, almost bumping into Miriam, as
usual, before he realized she was there. This time she was sure he locked eyes with her
for an instant as she reached for the coffeepot. He rushed on, past Sally the Whisperer,
who had entered the suite with an armful of files.
“He looks like he‟s seen a ghost,” remarked Sally. She slapped her load down on
Miriam‟s desk. “Here‟re the African files you asked for. Just three acceptances. I decided
to trust you with these.”
“Thanks so much.” Miriam‟s sarcasm masked her relief. From across the suite, her eyes
became riveted on the pile. She could barely wait until the Whisperer departed before she
hurried forward and pulled out the telltale thin folder. Sure enough, it belonged to Pamela
Whittle. The Maryland professor had bypassed the full selection process on her second
try, after meeting Director Wrightman at a bar, striking up a conversation, and perhaps
growing smitten with the third-world idealism that he espoused. Whatever the
combination, it had worked. Miriam knew, without looking, that Whittle‟s name was on
the list of invitees for the second cycle luncheon; she wouldn‟t have to crash this time.
What was going on between the Director and Whittle? Would their relationship blossom
in Africa, with the help of that “buyout” he and Mrs. B had discussed? Would they be in
danger? Miriam thought there would be no harm in calling Whittle to congratulate her on
her success.
She punched in the number, reflecting that there was little chance of reaching Whittle at
mid-morning, but it was worth a try. A man‟s voice answered, “Dr. Whittle‟s office. May
I help you?”
Was this the office talent that Whittle had referred to once while in her cups? Miriam
identified herself as a friend of the professor‟s at the Peace Council, and the young man
responded, “Oh, yeah. She‟s looking forward to spending the spring semester inKenya,
right? Or is it Sudan?”
Fortunate for her, thought Miriam, to escape this sandbox for awhile. “I know she‟s
frantically busy, but please have her call me when she gets a chance.”
Miriam hung up and went to work setting up the second cycle luncheon invitations on her
computer. Mrs. B had left the list of attendees on her desk early this morning. A few
minutes later, when her boss stopped by to check on her progress, the secretary had
finished running off the letters. She offered up a smile to confirm this, but couldn‟t
restrain a grimace as an incongruous thought struck her.
“Is there a problem?” asked Mrs. B.
“Oh, no, not at all.” Miriam hesitated. “It‟s just that Phillip Weston‟s name is on this
“Wasn‟t he at the last luncheon?”
“You find that surprising?”
“Well, it just seems a littleredundant.” Miriam felt hung out to dry, as the Deputy
Director stood before her looking amused. Did the woman expect her employee to
explain why honoring a grantee twice for the same grant might seem cost-ineffective?
“I thought it might be a mistake,” offered Miriam.
“Oh, really? You‟re getting quite observant, I must say. See any other mistakes there?”
Miriam returned her attention to the list. Another familiar name, Ed Randolph, rose up to
grab her. “There seem to be two grantees who‟ve been invited twice.”
“You have a sharp eye, Miriam, but a rather pedestrian outlook. Can you think of a
reason why we might invite the same people twice?”
“No,” said Miriam, “but I‟m just a mere”
“You can‟t afford that „mere secretary‟ attitude, Miriam. I thought you wanted to be more
than that. You need to stop thinking of the Council as a travel agency. In the future, we‟re
going to do more than just shove some government money in grantees‟ pockets and send
them out for a change of scene.
“Our true objective, Miriamnow, listen carefullyis to build an ongoing community
of Peace scholars. I want people with separate backgrounds, interests and destinations to
come together and pool their expertise. Phillip Weston and Ed Randolph are two men at
the top of their professions, and their expertise is more practical than academica great
advantage, given this new outlook. Phillip, as an urban planner, also has some
background in elections at the local level, and Ed is a respected banker. They can provide
just the right kind of enlarged perspective for the second cycle grantees.”
“It sounds like one big happy family.” Miriam smiled to soften any hint of sarcasm.
“That‟s one way of putting it.” The Deputy Director allowed a responsive smile to play
around her lips. “I‟ve got to run, but we‟ll continue to discuss this concept in the coming
weeks.” Mrs. B turned on her heel and departed.
Miriam dutifully chewed on this enlarged perspective and found it distasteful. Mrs. B still
took her for a naïve child. How could Peace scholars ever be one big happy family? One
hastily planned luncheon couldn‟t bridge the chasm that the Council itself had created
between its haves and have-nots. And as for the ideal qualifications of Phillip Weston and
Ed Randolphthey were the gentleman friend and son-in-law, respectively, of Mrs. B.
They represented crass politics and money, the worst possible influence on a group of
third-world-bound idealists.
Miriam‟s perspective continued to enlarge, but not as Mrs. B had hoped. She decided that
Phillip and Ed were being planted at the second luncheon to contaminate the program
with moneymaking schemes for a select few. Now it was clear why the Director and
Deputy Director, bitter adversaries, held so many closed-door meetings. They were
plotting to bring their two worlds together for mutual benefit. And Whittle must have
sniffed this out the moment she had met the Director at the first luncheon. She had seen a
good but desperate man, ready to strike a deal to salvage some part of his vision. Did she
hope to save him from Mrs. B‟s claws? Or to share in the handout?
When the phone rang shortly before lunchtime, Miriam anticipated hearing that tough,
professorial voice. “Talk fast, dearie. I‟m between appointments.”
“Hello, Pamela. I figure I can call you that now since you‟re a bona fide grantee. I know
it‟s official, I‟ve seen the paperwork.”
“You‟re getting to be a saucy little snip, aren‟t you? Well, go ahead and congratulate me,
if that‟s what you called for.”
“I did call to offer my sincerest congratulationsand I also hoped we could talk for a
“Oh, Christ, not this again. Now, listen, dearie, I told you last time. Don‟t count on me as
a source for whatever you‟re digging up, because I‟m as pure as a newborn child. If you
start in with any of your theories, I‟m gonna hang up on you.”
“Oh, please don‟t. I assure you, this is nothing but idle curiosity on my part. I‟m just
trying to understand the agency I work for. I want to know why some of these grants
appear to be more than just grants. I mean, it‟s like some of them are business deals, and
some of them assignations.”
“You‟re talking through your hat, and I have no comment.”
Miriam glanced at the entrance to her suite and lowered her voice. “I just think you
should know, in case you don‟t already, that Director Wrightman intends to resign within
two weeks, and that some sort of buyout has been discussed. Are you aware of that?”
“Absolutely no comment.”
“You met twogentlemen at the first grantee luncheon, Phillip Weston and Ed
Randolph, who‟re scheduled to appear at the second as well. Have any idea why?”
“Maybe they like the bar at the Palm Tree. Now listen, I‟m gonna hang up like I
promised, but first I gotta tell you what a stupid ass you‟re making of yourself. I don‟t
want to know about any under the table crap, and neither should you. Don‟t you see what
a corner you‟re painting yourself into? If you uncover something dirty and don‟t blow the
whistle, you‟ll be as tainted as your bosses. And if you do blow the whistle, they‟ll fire
your ass.”
“I realize all that.” Miriam heard someone stir in the corridor outside the suite, but still
could not stop. “I just want to know the truth, for my own satisfaction.”
“Bullshit, dearie. You‟re still trying to become the Woodward and Bernstein of
quasi-government. You think you‟re gonna write some trail-blazing investigative piece
that‟ll blow up the Peace Council, then leave in a blaze of glory with your Famous
Journalist credentials.”
“I know that‟s not gonna happen,” protested Miriam, acknowledging to herself how
perceptive the professor was. “Besides, I like my job now. It‟s got more possibilities than
I once thought.”
“In that case, let me try to simplify things for you. Here‟s the real storymy true
confession. Are you ready?”
“Oh, yes.”
“The truth is, Daniel Wrightman made my acquaintance when I threw myself in his face,
and he found me unique. Maybe it was my grittiness, my toughness, my loud mouth that
he liked. Maybe he compared me to the prissy little fashion plate he had thought he
loved, who clung fearfully to her rich husband‟s arm at the mere mention of Africa.
Maybe he decided I was the type he would prefer to accompany him into uncharted
territory, with its bugs and heat and tribal unrest and icky things like that. So now you
knowI got a grant because the man in charge liked me. If that‟s a crime, go ahead and
call the cops.”
“Of course it‟s not a crime. Not when you deserve a grant.” Miriam struggled to untangle
this web while there was still time. “It‟s just that I get the feeling it‟s not just a grant. It‟s
aa plot to accomplish something else, apart from legitimate Peace Council business.
And it involves other grantees who shouldn‟t even be grantees.”
“Enough of this shit. Don‟t ever call me again, okay? And don‟t count on me for your
Kramerkeller bash.” Whittle severed their connection, presumably forever.
Miriam hardly had time to brood over the loss of Whittle before an urgent call came
through. “Miriam,” said Cass, “sorry to disturb your lunch hour, but I desperately need
“You‟re not disturbing my lunch hour.” Miriam was slightly miffed at the suggestion that
her current hectic life would permit anything like normal mealtimes. “What‟s up?”
“Well, you remember I‟m supposed to go on the Puck Cavenaugh radio show tomorrow
and meet Larry Longford? You know, to express the feelings of fans who‟re still loyal to
him, who still think he‟s more deserving than Pete Spencer?”
“Of course I remember. I was planning to listen to it here, if I don‟t get too busy. What‟s
the matter? Isn‟t it still on?”
“Oh, yes. It‟s just that I‟ve been talking to Gloria Stack here in the newsroom. You
remember Gloria, don‟t you?”
Yes, Miriam remembered that pert nose for news. She especially remembered the way
those blonde tresses had flown past her on Calvin‟s doorstep.
“Let me guess. Ms. Stack wants you to seduce Larry and then rat on him, for that expose
she‟s writing. Is that it?”
“I would never rat on Larry, or anybody else,” responded Cass. “But she did suggest that
if I should gain any insights along the way—that‟s how she put itthat maybe I could sit
down with her afterward”
“And spill some pillow talk,” supplied Miriam.
“Miriam, what‟ll I do? I have no idea if Larry will even give me the time of day, but what
if he does? You know how I feel about him. It‟d be a dream come true for me toyou
know, communicate with him in a meaningful way. But if that should happen, and if I
don‟t tell Gloria what she wants to knowwell, I just don‟t trust her. She has too much
clout with my boss, Ms. Baker.”
“You can‟t let yourself get fired from that job,” lectured Miriam. “It‟s your shot at doing
something significant with your career. So you might have to give Gloria something on
Longford, if you can get it. It‟s a great opportunity, Cass. Think what it means to work in
journalism. I‟d sell my soul for a chance like that.”
“No, you wouldn‟t. I‟ve found out a lot of this news business you worship so much is
sleaze. I won‟t sell my soul just to stay here.”
“Cass,” said Miriam, “you gotta find a way to have it both ways. You can „communicate
meaningfully‟ with Larry without betraying him to Gloriaat least, not much. You could
give her just enough to titillate her.”
“I‟m not clever enough to play games like that. I‟m just a secretary.”
“God,” exclaimed Miriam, “enough with the „just a secretary‟ bit. It‟s time you grew
beyond that. What you‟re doing now could be important in the scheme of things.”
“The scheme of things? Miriam, all I ever wanted to do was offer Larry a little
encouragement as a fan. Now everybody assumes I‟m out to seduce him. I‟m not
conceited enough to think I can do that. Why should he even look at me, when he‟s
already got a beautiful fiancée?”
“Oh, yeah, the beautiful fiancée. She can‟t quite get him to the altar, but she‟s making a
career out of being his fiancée. Last time the Post gossip column mentioned her, she was
still doing the late shift behind the bar at the Palm Tree, with plenty of attentive
customers handing out some nice tips. You can‟t compete with a cocktail waitress, Cass,
so don‟t try; just be yourself. You‟ve got a lot going for you.”
“Yeah, right. Like what?”
“Oh, come on, Cass.” But Miriam was forced to stop and consider. “Your honesty,” she
offered. “The way you always speak from the heart. Some men might appreciate that.”
Miriam could tell that Cass was not reassured. For the moment, Cass would rather be
appreciated for a svelte body that seemed to float on air in a slinky cocktail dress. She
wished for a sharp, cleverly made up face that could entrance late-night drinkers.
“You‟ve really improved just recently,” continued Miriam, still tentatively. As she
searched for evidence to prop up her friend, she discovered to her surprise that she spoke
the truth. Cass‟s awakening could be traced to a wine-soaked lunch at the Kramerkeller
back in late August, when the heretofore stodgy secretary, apparently inspired by
Jocelyn‟s dramatic firing from the Council, had announced her own plans for departure.
She had been vague about the timing, but definite about her goal to do something more
exciting with her career. Surely, she declared, the Post or the Redskins would consider
hiring her; every organization, no matter how exalted, depended on good secretaries. Her
friends had guffawed at first, but seduced by the wine and their own improbable dreams,
they were soon egging her on.
Rejuvenated by her own daring, Cass had made the transition from an ordinary to a
vibrant woman in less than three months. The mere possibility of meeting her hero had
made her sexier. Miriam had noticed at some point during their last Friday evening at the
club that her friend made heads turn as never before. Cass‟s waist had contracted a few
inches, probably because she no longer had time for those caloric Kramerkeller lunches.
She now wore blouses with real necklines, and skirts with more adventurous hemlines.
Even the current spate of self-doubt did not resemble the inertia of old. Who would have
thought, three months ago, that Cass could be faced with a dilemma like this?
“Listen, dear,” said Miriam, awash with admiration, “I can only repeat my original
advice. You can‟t go wrong just by being yourself. If that‟s not good enough for a
numbskull like Larry Longford, to hell with him. And the same with that vamp-reporter.
If she can‟t understand your qualms about spilling personal details, to hell with her.”
“Bless you, Miriam. You‟ve been a big help, and a good friend.”
“Glad to help,” responded Miriam, hoping she hadn‟t destroyed Cass‟s career.

By the next morning, Miriam felt her own career hanging in the balance again. She was
about to take the luncheon invitation letters in to Mrs. B for signature, when Sally the
Whisperer materialized before her, blocking her path. “Listen, Miriam. I need you to
track down a couple of files that I believe Mrs. Broadwater has. I need Phillip Weston
and Ed Randolph right away.”
Miriam wasn‟t surprised that Sally had decided to repay her for her file-snatching trick,
but was this a serious request? Did the Whisperer intend to weasel her way into Miriam‟s
business? Or was she merely asserting herself as a Program Assistant by bullying a
“Weston and Randolph? What‟s so special about them?” Miriam feared that she had been
indiscreet with those names, as well as other matters, while talking to Whittle on the
phone. But she had not been overly concerned, since no higher-ups had been within
earshot. She had begun to feel invulnerable to the lower-level sneaks.
“It‟s no concern of yours. Gary and Andy are doin‟ a special project for the Director, and
I‟ve been asked to assist them by roundin‟ up some files. That‟s all it is.”
“Okay,” said Miriam, growing agitated, “but they‟re not on my desk right now. Mrs.
Broadwater has them, and she can‟t be disturbed. What‟s the big project? Is it that
Sally, a renowned spreader of tales, now showed her tight-lipped side. “It‟s not my place
to give you details, and it‟s not your place to ask. Just get those files for me as soon as
possible. If Mrs. Broadwater has any questions about it, have her call me.” Mrs. Elegant
turned on her high heels, jingled her bracelets and the inevitable gold money belt, and
floated away on a cloud of perfume.
Miriam proceeded into Mrs. B‟s office and laid the letters before her. That was all she
intended to do, but as she turned to leave, she thought she glimpsed the two hot potato
files on a coffee table before the couch. The sight of them set her analytical mind
spinning. What did Gary and Andy, third-world Program Officers, hope to accomplish by
tapping this moneyed Weston-Randolph combination? Those two had generated their
share of office gossip. She remembered how “the girls” had written them off as gay; even
when Gary began romancing his secretary Ginny, some cynics had predicted that this was
a front that would crumble. But lately Ginny had taken to flashing a diamond ring in
everyone‟s face. She and her best buddies, Sally and Amelia, could be glimpsed almost
daily in a giggly confab. Had Andy‟s heart been broken? Miriam shrugged off such
questions as office fluff, a mildly amusing counterpoint to the weightier issue of whether
Gary and Andy would succumb to the spreading corruption.
As she turned to leave Mrs. B‟s office, she determined to give the files another glance.
She confirmed their identities as she swept past, only to crash into the coffee table.
“Goodness, Miriam, be careful. We don‟t want any casualties on the job,” was Mrs. B‟s
“Excuse me,” muttered Miriam as she limped toward the door.
“Is there anything on that table that particularly interests you?”
Miriam stopped in her tracks; it was useless to try to evade Elaine Broadwater. “As a
matter of fact, it‟s those two files. There‟s been an inquiry”
“It seems to me those particular grantees have you stymied, Miriam.”
“I‟m not actually the one who inquired,” began Miriam. But Mrs. B had motioned her to
a chair, cutting short any protest. Miriam sat down, rubbing her right leg below the knee.
Her boss gazed at her amiably enough from the depths of the high-backed chair. “We‟ve
already begun this discussion, Miriam, so we might as well continue it. We need to
understand each other if we‟re going to work together in the long term. I can hardly
expect you to share my priorities if you never get to know me as a person.”
But I do know you, thought Miriam. You‟d be amazed at how much I‟m figuring out
even as we speak, based on my memories of the files and more recent clues. It‟s all
clicking into place at last, how Weston and Randolph came to be twice-honored grantees.
Weston, the urban planner who sticks his fingers into local elections, is a miniature of
President Monroe Bailey, the great unrequited love of your life. And Randolph is the
son-in-law who rescued your daughter from your clutches, only to be wooed back with
the promise of a government-paid second honeymoon in Europe. As partial payment for
their trips, this pair has entered into a moneymaking scheme with you, something far
beyond the Council‟s traditional scope. They‟ve entered into it with the Director, too,
which is even more troublesome. So what could you possibly tell me that I‟m not onto
“But before we talk about me, I want to talk a little about you.”
“About me?” Miriam reeled in her seat.
“About your motivations. I‟ve noticed a remarkable upswing in your curiosity level these
past few weeks. I‟m not saying that‟s a bad thingquite the contrary. But we need to
distinguish between a genuine concern for the program and idle curiosity.”
Miriam became riveted by those level eyes, capable of exposing her every deed. No use
trying to prevaricate; the woman knew her too well. She probably knew how many Free
Papers Miriam had secreted in her desk. She may have divined details of Miriam‟s
lunchtime tryst with Editor Martinez. Worse, she probably had a spy at the bank who had
noticed that the envelope of checks Miriam had turned in that same day looked
suspiciously torn. Miriam‟s imagination concocted a massive spy network: a plant at the
Kramerkeller to monitor her lunchtime and Friday night imbibing, an office snitch to
keep a running count of her trips to the coffee pot and to the bathroom.
Somehow the omniscient Mrs. B had let Miriam get this far without firing her. “If I‟m
curious, Mrs. Broadwater,” she offered, “it‟s only because I‟m concerned about the
“All right, I‟ll take your word for that. The question then becomes, what are you so
concerned about?”
“Maybe just appearances. It just looks strange to me that”
“What looks strange, Miriam?”
The Deputy Director wasn‟t about to help her navigate these shoals. It was up to Miriam
to articulate the problem. “That these two grantees, Weston and Randolph, are being
given—I don‟t know—the run of the program.”
“I run the program, Miriam. As I explained before, I‟m introducing the concept of a more
comprehensive grant. These two grantees to the European program will also serve as
advisors to the African program. Do you have any objections to that?”
Just that she‟s got it backwards, thought Miriam. I suspect the Weston-Randolph
partnership is zeroed in on the African program; the European junkets will be mere
payoff. Advisors, my ass. They‟re private bankers for one man‟s cause, even if it is a
noble one.
“You still look perplexed, Miriam. Would it help you to know that this concept originated
with Director Wrightman? I‟ll reiterate that he‟s a friend of mine, in spite of our
numerous and vocal differences. Over the years I‟ve seen him grow increasingly
frustrated with the program as it is. He would have liked to transform the Peace Council
into something more akin to the Peace Corps. But bureaucracies have a way of resisting
individual goals like that.
“Bureaucracies also have a way of lulling us into complacency for years at a time.
Sometimes it takes a personal crisis to blast that. Whatever the reason, Daniel has
indicated he‟s ready to discard his three-piece suit and become what he calls a
well-digger in the wilderness.” The Deputy Director smiled, as if she could picture the
Director stripping off his characteristic apparel.
“I‟m acting in good faith as his partner, to help him take the necessary steps to establish a
private organization where he can pursue his own goals. I see no reason why that should
create raised eyebrows.”
Had Miriam raised eyebrows at her boss? “I understand,” she hastened to respond. What
she understood was that Mrs. B could throw a blanket of plausible deniability over the
entire operation. The Deputy Director would see to it that Weston and Randolph never
handled any transferred funds personally, and more importantly, never created any
money trails that could be traced to her. She would treat them as legitimate grantees who
had been vetted by the usual academic selection committees, even if she had to create
bogus paperwork to beef up those undersized files. In short, she would give Miriam no
chance to be the Deep Throat of quasi-government.
How had Miriam herself slid so effortlessly into bureaucratic complacency? She almost
believed there was blood and gore on Old Prune Face‟s handsor would be, once she got
rid of Wrightman and took charge at the Council. But the Covert War Council theme that
she and Jocelyn had trumped up in the raucous Kramerkeller atmosphere couldn‟t be
supported in this office setting, with her career on the line.
“Well, understand this,” said Mrs. B. “The Peace Council isn‟t a fairy tale or a morality
play. It‟s an agency with established goals that I‟ve tried to serve faithfully for over a
decade. I‟m not the one trying to subvert it. The natural progression of my career brought
me to the Peace Council; I never claimed to be a Peace Corps type, and frankly, the job
doesn‟t call for it.”
Miriam tried to imagine Elaine Broadwater digging wells in the wilderness. This could
barely be contemplated with a straight face, but Mrs. B proceeded to explain herself.
Despite her protestations, the story had a certain seductiveness as a right-wing fairy tale,
with Monroe Bailey cast as Prince Charming.
“We were so young when we met.” Mrs. B‟s smile reflected Miriam‟s. “But I should
emphasize that the University of Texas was no hotbed of radicalism. The
business-oriented crowd we belonged to was dominant. We frankly dreamed of
accumulating wealth and someday putting it to use in the political arena. Monroe and I
were basically platonic friends, after a brief period of intimacy when we first met. By the
time we graduated from college, we had met our future spouses and had become partners,
ready to take on the world.”
Miriam realized there was tragedy lurking around the edges of this partnership. She
learned that Luke Broadwater had worked with Monroe in the oil business and later in his
local and Congressional campaigns. Tragically, Luke had died of a heart attack in his late
forties. Miriam read mostly frustration in Mrs. B‟s eyes and voice when she spoke of the
inferior man she had married, who evidently had killed himself trying to keep up with the
powerhouse Bailey. That gave way to an eager glow at every mention of her true love.
She must have repressed any guilty or conflicted feelings when, as a new widow, she
followed Congressman-elect Bailey to Washington.
“The Congressman took a broad perspective in his policy interests,” explained Mrs. B.
“From the start he was known as an internationalist through his service on the Foreign
Affairs Committee. As I worked my way up to Assistant Chief of Staff, I became
involved in European trade issues.”
So the once intimate friend of Bailey had to work her way up the ladder, and still fell
short of the top staff job. She had had to reckon not only with Bailey‟s notorious
reluctance to promote women into top jobs, but (more than likely) his hawk-eyed wife.
“And when we were elected to the Senate,” proceeded Mrs. B, “I served in the same
capacity during his first term. As you may know, the Senator had many accomplishments
to his credit, but probably made his biggest mark on the Armed Services Committee.”
Clearly, Bailey had progressed from internationalist to militarist as his Presidential
aspirations took shape. He had been the darling of the Pentagon and the architect of a
major military buildup. Miriam felt herself transported back to high school, when she
first had heard of Senator Bailey. She had been a teenaged peace-and-love type, and he
had been an object of derision, the typical bellicose politician who never served in the
military himself. She recalled the bloody allegations that had been hurled at him by
hard-boiled pacifists. Those charges never amounted to a scandal, and had done little
damage to his national profile. They evidently had not dogged loyal servants such as
Elaine Broadwater as they moved on to comfortable niches in the bureaucracy. Still,
Miriam could recall those strident voices that had declared Monroe Bailey a murderer for
performing the budgetary sleights of hand that kept the “killing machine” running
smoothly. One of his darlings had been the Army‟s training program for “freedom
fighters” abroadthe School for Assassins, as opponents called it. The school had scored
such successes in Latin America that Bailey and his allies had tried to expand it.
What did Mrs. B have to do with this? By her own testimony, she was no
behind-the-scenes manipulator, but mostly a follower. Stymied by Bailey‟s circumspect
character and his vigilant wife, she had retreated from his immediate arena, perhaps to
bide her time and find a back door onto his stage. But the Peace Council seemed an
unlikely spot from which to impress a warrior king; supposedly, it was a joke to him. Or
was it? Could the “peace” part be subverted for his purposes?
While theorizing feverishly, Miriam observed blandly, “It‟s certainly been a long
andand productive friendship between you and the President.”
“You could say that,” smiled her boss, “but when your friend happens to be the most
powerful man in the free world, the relationship becomes problematic, to say the least.
The amount of time you spend in each other‟s presence dwindles to moments.”
Mrs. B let out a sigh, but squared her shoulders as impressively as her prune shape would
allow. The gesture struck Miriam as pathetic, but admirable. The woman had nursed this
hopeless yearning for four decades, while fashioning a career out of ita career that still
could go places. “A man like the President accumulates hundreds of friends in the course
of business,” she explained rather bitterly. “Sometimes his oldest and truest friends
become secondary. They can only reclaim his attention through some dramatic
This old, true friend of Bailey must have something dramatic in the works. Would it be
enough to dump Director Wrightman and turn his cherished African program over to
Bailey‟s School for Assassins? Miriam found herself hoping that the Deputy Director
who could do wonders for her career had mostly benign intentions. Maybe a woman
could love a warrior without becoming one of his foot soldiers. The President was an
easy man to appreciate for his broad shoulders, magnificent hairline, and blazing blue
eyes. It could be the dramatic act Mrs. B envisioned wasn‟t a political one at all. Maybe
the height of her ambition was to slip into the Oval Office surreptitiously, like a young
Miriam‟s boss was asking her a question, so she managed to squelch the scene that
flashed before her eyes. “Is there anything else you‟d like to know, while we have this
opportunity to talk?”
This sounded more businesslike than confidential. Still, Miriam imagined herself
dispensing advice as if it were Cass or Jocelyn sitting opposite her. You‟ve gotta do
something to shake up the arrogant bastard. Take up with someone else, and make sure
he knows about it. Marry the other guy if you have to. That‟s the only way to convince
His Excellency that he‟s not the be-all and end-all. Phillip Weston would do just fine as
the other man, with his smarts and his semi-distinguished looks.
But Miriam held back, resorting instead to an impersonal question about Mrs. B‟s plans
to strengthen the Council‟s position in the foreign policy establishment. As the Deputy
Director expanded on her vision of a new Peace Council, Miriam reflected that she could
share in this bright future if she kept her mouth shut.

Sally the Whisperer was lurking in the vicinity when Miriam emerged from the Deputy
Director‟s office. “If you‟re waiting to see Mrs. Broadwater,” Miriam told her, sounding
more possessive than she meant to, “I‟m sorry, but she just got on the phone.”
“That‟s okay, I‟ll wait.” Sally folded her arms and looked prepared to plant herself in
Miriam‟s space.
“The files you said you wanted are in there,” offered Miriam, “but I don‟t know how long
she‟ll be.”
“Thank you. That‟s what I want to speak to her about.”
Miriam stiffened against this invasion of her turf. She felt an absurd twinge of jealousy,
as if she suspected Sally of plotting to steal the affections of Mrs. B.
“By the way, one of your stock room buddies came by to see you a couple of minutes
“Thanks.” Miriam noticed with a jolt that it was past two o‟clock. The Puck Cavenaugh
radio show, in which Cass was scheduled to attempt some form of communication with
her hero Larry Longford, must be in progress. Miriam had not yet taken her lunch break,
so she felt entitled to slip into the stock room and listen to the show. Sally put on a
friendly face and purred, “You look frazzled. Why don‟t you step out for a few minutes,
and I‟ll cover your desk.”
“I appreciate it,” said Miriam. She didn‟t trust the Whisperer, but curiosity overruled
caution as she rushed off. She found Darrell and Joe in the throes of an unprecedented
football event. “Longford just got some bad news right on the air,” Darrell informed her.
“It came out on the news wire that he‟s been placed on injured reserve for the rest of the
regular season. He wasn‟t even told in advance. He started cussing out Rudman and
Boxley and was bleeped, but then he apologized.”
“He‟s a goner in this town, apology or not,” predicted Joe. “That dude was talking in
front of a live audience. Everybody‟s gonna know he dissed his bosses.”
“Why would Cavenaugh let him self-destruct like that? They‟re supposed to be close
friends,” said Miriam.
“Ratings,” said Darrell and Joe simultaneously.
They listened as Puck goaded his guest further. “I‟m with you there, Larry. This is
asinine. How can a team put a player of your caliber on the inactive list? You‟ve played
lots of times in much worse shape than you‟re in now. What‟re they thinking?”
“S, isn‟t it obvious? Excuse my French, but I‟m reeling here. The management has
fallen for the golden-haired boy, just like the fans, but they oughta know better. They act
like I might upset or distract their amazing phenom, even though I have five times his
experience, and could help him if he didn‟t already know everything.”
“But geez, Lar. Rudman and Boxley have been close friends of yours, and you‟ve had
some great years together. Are you saying that friendship‟s down the tubes?”
“I‟m just saying I‟m disappointed in them. They sold me out for a pretty new face, a
glamour boy who‟s had a few wins in his first year as a starter. That may look like an
amazing feat, but believe me, it could collapse overnight. It takes experience to see
through the smoke and mirrors.”
“Truer words were never spoken, Larry. Smoke and mirrors seem to be preferred over
substance every time, especially in this town. Haven‟t I been saying just that for years?”
Puck waited for the reliable roar from his partisans in the audience.
“That swaggering style of his is what the fans eat up,” snorted Longford. “And his
lifestyle off the fieldthat‟s what the press loves.”
“It‟s a little unconventional, shall we say,” put in Cavenaugh.
“But it‟s the lack of loyalty that really bites. Y‟know, Puck, everyone knows I became a
free agent two years ago after taking the Redskins to the NFC championship game. I
coulda grabbed one of several lucrative offers I got then, but instead I chose to remain
loyal to my team. Whada joke. You got any idea what it feels like to get kicked in the
balls for being loyal?” Another roar from the audience condemned the paltry values of
the Nation‟s Capital.
“Well, Lar,” drawled Puck, “much as I share your anger, I gotta point out that you still
have some diehard supporters in this town. Course, President Bailey is one of them. But
since he ain‟t here to say so, I‟ve taken the liberty of gathering together a small sampling
of fans from my audiences during the past few weeks. They‟ve professed themselves
ready, willing and able to provide an alternative view on the state of the Redskins.
Jimmy, my trusty director, will introduce them to our listeners and to you, right after
these messages.”
During the break, Miriam filled in Darrell and Joe on what was about to occur. The men
were amused, but not particularly surprised, that their old colleague Cass had found a
way to make herself heard on this burning subject. They recalled past football discussions
in which Cass, all blushes, had demonstrated her blind devotion to Longford. She would
be a natural for president of the Larry Longford Fan Club, if such an organization could
survive in this community.
When Cavenaugh came back on the air, he hit rough waters in his attempt to introduce
the next segment. “I‟ve been conducting an informal Spencer-Longford poll in my
audiences all season. I‟ve heard a lot of impassioned opinions on both sides of this
question. You know how I am about controversyit‟s what I live for.”
“Yeah, I know, Puck.” Longford sounded tired. “You always favor the far-out point of
view. It musta been tough to lasso three Longford fansfemales, yet.”
“Oh, come on, Lar, there‟s more where they came from. This might be the corruption
capital of the world, but even here there‟s a few folks who prefer substance to flash.”
“Yeah, you pegged megood old Mr. Substance Over Flash. Looking over my gallery of
fans, I could say the same about them.”
A murmur of dismay unsettled the audience. It didn‟t seem smart to insult your most
ardent fans in a public forum. “Believe me, I meant that as a compliment,” amended
Larry. “I think it‟s real brave of you ladies to expose yourselves as my loyal fans. It‟s just
that there‟s no way you or I can win. I can‟t stand up to the phenom with all the flash.
And you all wouldn‟t even want to compete with some of the local dames I know who
lobby with their bodies and try to screw their way up the ladder. I suggest we all just give
up this fight.”
“Are you trying to tell us something, Larry?” goaded Puck. “Everybody‟s all ears.”
“Well, listen up. I just decided I‟ve had it with this team. Look, I‟ve always been a team
player, so I‟m gonna give them what they want. They don‟t have to spell it out any
clearer. As of right now, I‟m resigning from the Redskins. I ain‟t coming back, next year
or ever. I‟m entertaining other offers.”
Silence gripped the airwaves. After a nonplussed moment, Cavenaugh offered, “Larry,
my man, get a grip. Unless I‟m mistaken, you have a contract.”
“My contract says I‟m supposed to be the starter. They‟re the ones who broke it, not me.”
Darrell and Joe guffawed at this, and declared that no NFL contract could possibly
contain a guarantee like that. Cavenaugh, less skeptical, suggested that if the team had
broken the terms of the contract, they should pay Longford his salary for this year and
next, if he remained unemployed.
“They can keep their money,” said Longford. “I‟m releasing them from their obligation.
If they want to find me, they know where I live. Believe me, I can find more useful things
to do than sit on their damned bench. Sorry, Puck, but I‟m just too shook up to continue
this right now.”
Chaotic sounds accompanied Longford‟s departure: the feedback of a microphone pushed
aside, the crash of an overturned chair, the desperate gasps of fans who tried and failed to
make contact as he executed his end run. Cavenaugh paused half a minute to allow this
chaos full reign. Then he intoned, “Folks, we‟ve just witnessed a scene that to my
knowledge is unprecedented. As sports fans, we all know that sooner or later every great
athlete has to walk away from the game. But this is usually a private decision, reached
after weeks of agonizing and contemplation. To my knowledge, this is the first time in
history that a man of Larry Longford‟s accomplishments has reached this juncture in such
a spontaneous and open forum. Not to say he‟s the first exceptional man in this town to
be brought to the end of his rope by malicious enemies. But this is the most blatant
occurrence I can think of since a President was driven from office by a media-inspired,
left-wing vendetta.”
A collective groan went up as Puck sang this tired tune. Even the usually worshipful live
audience seemed to think this was no time for such a detour. Darrell and Joe, inveterate
Spencer fans, celebrated Longford‟s departure with unrestrained joy. Only Miriam
seemed to care that her friend had been stiffed. “Poor Cass. She didn‟t even get to say a
word to Larry, much less anything on the radio. She must be crushed.”
As Cavenaugh continued to compare Longford to other maligned heroes, the original
theme of the show seemed irretrievably lost. Now that Longford had departed without
bothering to meet his handpicked fans, surely even Cass could see what a jerk he was.
“Poor girl,” repeated Miriam. “I‟ll have to give her a call tonight and see how she‟s
taking it.”
But Miriam had miscalculated Cass‟s willingness to “take it.” Cavenaugh also had
underestimated the steamroller strength of a determined fan. He broke off his diatribe as
if someone had throttled him. After a confused pause, Cass‟s overloud voice reverberated
in his microphone. “Could I please say something?”
“Well, sure, honey, but you can‟t have my microphone. I‟m still the star here. Since you
seem to be the only guest left, I don‟t see why you can‟t have your very own microphone.
Jimmy, go ahead and set her up. When you‟re ready, honey, tell us why you didn‟t run
after Longford like the other crazed groupies.”
“I‟m not any crazed groupie.” Cass‟s voice was tremulous at first, but gradually steadied.
“I‟m just a fan who thinks Larry Longford has gotten a raw deal from everybodythe
team, the media, most of the so-called fans. Those other women are a perfect example.
True fans wouldn‟t be chasing after him and hounding him at a time like this. They‟d
give him the space he needs to sort out his future.”
“I don‟t want to disillusion you too much,” said Puck, “but Larry Longford ain‟t the sort
of guy who engages in a lot of solitary reflection. Nor is he exactly friendless. Need I
remind you he‟s got at least one friend in a very high place? Not only that, he‟s got a
pretty snazzy fiancée to comfort him. My pal Larry will definitely land on his feet. His
life after football, if it comes to that, will go just fine.”
“How can his life after football go fine if he leaves knowing he can still play? That‟s just
Cass‟s listeners murmured loudly. The flustered woman resumed, “Excuse me if I‟m
being rude. But I thought you were his friend. If you really were, you‟d realize that Larry
Longford is too much of a competitor to walk away in the middle of a fight. He lives and
breathes football.”
“That‟s certainly true when he‟s on the field.” Cavenaugh struggled to regain the upper
hand. “But all I meant was, if he has to walk away, he‟ll definitely have a life off the
“What about that life off the field? You brought up his fiancée, but here you are trying to
introduce him to other women.”
Guffaws from the audience indicated that Cass had scored a hit on this family values
advocate. Cavenaugh hastened to insist, “Now, honey, you misunderstood me. My only
intention was to get the guy together with a few of his fans. How was I supposed to know
they‟d get soso hyper at the sight of him?”
“Oh, I know you, Mr. Cavenaugh. I know you think we‟re all hysterical females who
don‟t even really understand football.”
“I don‟t think that about all of you,” said Cavenaugh, “only some of you.”
Cass, in her new-found feminist voice, declared, “You didn‟t really think women were
capable of understanding what Larry‟s going through, did you? You just thought a
catfight over him on your show would boost your ratings. You‟re just like all his other
friends, selling him out for ratings or profit.”
“Selling him out? Come on,” protested Cavenaugh. “He‟s not that helpless. I‟m telling
you, he‟s got a real cushy life compared to ninety-nine percent of us. Certainly compared
to me.” The proud cabin-dweller betrayed a hint of envy.
“How do you know a cushy life is what he wants?”
“How do you know it‟s not what he wants?” shot back Cavenaugh. “For somebody who
still hasn‟t met him, you seem to think you know him pretty well.”
“I may not have met him formally, but I‟ve seen a side of him that most people don‟t
even know about. I‟ve glimpsed the real man behind the rough edges.”
Miriam saw where this was leading, and squirmed in embarrassment. Cass was about to
blurt out, yet again, what had happened after that memorable pre-season game when she,
Miriam and Jocelyn had taken an impulsive detour onto the inner city streets. Miriam
knew Cass would discuss it in her honest manner, describing how scared she had been,
but also how privileged, to observe Larry Longford‟s entry onto the scene, and his efforts
to uplift a small gang of “little ghetto kids.”
Miriam avoided locking eyes with Darrell or Joe as they listened to the former colleague
who had loved to talk football with them, but once or twice had confused them with each
other. She couldn‟t guess what they thought of Cass‟s faith in Larry Longford‟s ability to
“save” four African American youths. The stock room guys, while not street kids, were
stuck in an office ghetto of sorts. None of the promises for their advancement at the
Council had materialized as of yet. Miriam hoped the guys at least appreciated Cass‟s
sincerity. Consciously or not, she had turned the Longford-Spencer controversy upside
down. Everyone should take note that Longford actually had set foot in a poor
neighborhood, whereas all Spencer had done so far was to squire a black Councilwoman
around town.

                  CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Political Grenades

After Cass‟s radio performance, Miriam wavered between pride in her friend and
embarrassment for her. She couldn‟t decide whether congratulations or commiseration
was in order. This decision was postponed, since Cass wasn‟t at home, or wasn‟t
answering the phone, when Miriam called her at five o‟clock. She left a message: “Hi,
Cass, it‟s Miriam. I listened to the show this afternoon, and I thought you did fine. You
more than held your own with Cavenaugh, and you got your points across loud and clear.
And the story about Larry and those kidswell, that‟s getting to be a legend. It‟s too bad
you didn‟t manage to connect with the great man, but that seems like mission impossible.
Anyway, if you want to talk about it, give me a call.”
Miriam waited all evening for Cass to call back, and was concerned when she didn‟t. Had
there been something wrong with the message? Miriam had tried to sound upbeat, but
maybe Cass was rankled that she hadn‟t accomplished her primary goal. The next
morning, Miriam woke up in a sweat about her friend. She pictured Cass holed up in her
apartment, ashamed to show her face after sparring with a popular talk show host and
exposing her innermost feelings about an arrogant football player. The more Miriam
reflected on Cass‟s performance, the more appalling it seemed.
At the office that morning, Miriam waited until ten o‟clock, then placed a call to Cass in
the Post newsroom. A receptionist informed her, “Cass hasn‟t been in since Monday. I
think she quit.”
If that‟s true, Miriam resolved, I‟ll bawl her out until her ears ring. No way can I stand by
while she throws over a dream job because of some ridiculous fantasy about Larry
Longford. If she won‟t return my calls, I‟ll go out to Takoma Park at lunchtime and
pound on her door until I rouse her.
As noontime approached, Miriam considered discussing her plan with Mrs. Broadwater if
the opportunity arose. Mrs. B had appreciated Cass as a secretary, and might be willing to
grant Miriam an extended lunch hour for a mission of mercy. But it appeared that the
Deputy Director, after yesterday‟s spate of confidences, had retreated behind her closed
As usual when beset with indecision, Miriam doused herself with coffee. At noon she
thought she would explode if she didn‟t take some immediate action. The ring of her
outside line shocked her nerves into a semblance of calm. Cass‟s voice in her ear sounded
both sheepish and smug. “Miriam? Thanks so much for your phone message, it was really
sweet. I didn‟t get a chance to return it until now becausewell, I only got home an hour
or so ago.”
“You were out all night? God, Cass, where will that get you?” Miriam knew from
experience that hitting the bars to drown your sorrows wouldn‟t solve anything. “Were
you with someone?” As Cass hesitated, realization struck. “Oh, my God. Don‟t tell
meyou were with him.”
“Are you shocked?” asked Cass.
“Well, not exactly. Didn‟t I say you could impress anybody by being yourself? But
actually, yes, I‟m shocked, because I thought he stiffed everyone on that show. How did
“It‟s really so amazing. It seems he heard me on the radio while he was speeding out of
town in his Mercedes. So he called Cavenaugh‟s producer and got my home phone
number. Imagine my astonishment when I got home and heard his message on my
machine. He said if I felt so inclined, I could meet him at the Palm Tree bar at six
o‟clock. That‟s one message I‟ll never erase as long as I live.”
“Would this be the same Palm Tree bar where his fiancée works the night shift?”
“Oh, God, yes. And when I arrived, they were in the middle of a fight. He put his arm
around me, right in front of her, and said, „Now, here‟s a woman who appreciates what
Larry Longford is all about.‟ She said she appreciated that, too, and that I was welcome
to him.”
“Oh, Cass, I can‟t believe it. Your wildest dream come true. Did you spend the whole
evening at the bar?”
“No, he got us a table for dinner. Miriam, you would not believe what we ate, what we
drank, how many people we saw and how long it took us to get through that dinner. He
said he was celebrating his freedom and intended to do it in style. He ordered appetizers
that were a meal in themselves, and after that steak, lobster, champagne and dessert.”
“He treated you to a gourmet dinner on your first date? That‟s a real man, Cass. I had
pretzels and beer on my last date.”
“Actually, I can‟t say he bought me dinner. It was on the house, since it seems at least
one of the owners is a friend of his. In fact, he had quite a few friends coming out of the
woodwork last night. Businessmen handed him certificates for stuff like free clothes,
watches, appliances. Fans at the bar sent over drinks and came by for autographs.
Everyone told him to hang in there, that eventually either the Redskins would beg him to
come back or another team would come calling. With all that going on, we were there
until almost midnight.”
“What did you talk to him about?” asked Miriam.
“Nothing, really.” Cass‟s voice veered back toward the sheepish. “That‟s the only
negative thing about the evening. It‟s so hard to get to know someone under those
circumstances. Every time I tried to ask him a question, we were interrupted again. When
he‟s out in public, all his time and energy are taken up with being a celebrity.”
“But you weren‟t out in public with him all night. At some point, you left the restaurant
with him. Right?”
“Yes, sure, but by that time we weren‟t exactly sober. He got up all of a sudden and
asked if I was ready to shove off. I said I was, and followed him out. I didn‟t even want
to stop in the ladies‟ room, for fear he‟d ditch me or someone else would grab him. I‟m
afraid we got into his car without a designated driver. I thought he might have one lined
up, but he didn‟t.”
“Not the world‟s most perfect gentleman, is he?”
“I just don‟t know, Miriam. Everything happened in such a blur, there wasn‟t much
chance for me to probe the real Larry Longford. Before we actually got into the
Mercedes, he asked me if I thought I could drive. Maybe I should have, not being quite as
drunk as he was. But that car intimidated me, so I told him I had perfect faith in his
driving ability. Well, he gunned it so fast, I thought for sure the police would stop us.”
“I don‟t think there was much danger of that.” Miriam‟s cynicism got the better of her.
“If Longford didn‟t have friends among Washington‟s finest, he‟d have gotten into even
more scrapes than he already has.”
“Anyway, by some miracle we got to his house in one piece. He has an absolute palace in
McLean, in the same neighborhood as your boss Renee and her husband. I went to a party
there a couple of years ago, so I was sort of familiar with the area. You were there that
time too, weren‟t you?”
“No, strangely enough, I‟ve never been invited to Renee‟s house. I‟ve only had the honor
of working for her. And while we‟re on the subject, she‟s no longer my boss, Mrs.
Broadwater is. It seems Renee will have to exchange that mansion in McLean for a hut in
Africa if she wants to stay close to her lover, Daniel Wrightman.
“But we‟re digressing here. Let‟s get back to our main topic, Larry Longford in bed. Was
he good?”
Cass hesitated. “It‟s hard to say.”
“Don‟t tell me you didn‟t do it.”
“Oh, we did it, all right.” Cass laughed off the notion that she could have been denied. “I
was a little rusty, maybe, but I haven‟t forgotten the basics. It‟s just that it was so quick,
and I guess not very passionate. And to think I didn‟t take any precautions, after all the
times I‟ve scolded Jocelyn about that. I guess I just wasn‟t myself last night. But I
understand now how it can happen. Sometimes you get so caught up in the moment, you
don‟t stop to think.”
“Now you tell me,” said Miriam. “You‟re supposed to be my sensible friend. I took your
lectures to heart, even if Jo didn‟t. I could‟ve had a quickie withwell, never mind about
that right now. What about the morning after? Did he bring you home like a gentleman?”
“He didn‟t have a chance to do that,” said Cass. “When I woke up this morning next to
him, the phone was ringing. As soon as he picked it up, I could tell it was super
“Who was it? The President?” joked Miriam. When Cass did not laugh, she exclaimed,
“Oh, my God. I didn‟t really think they were that tight.”
“While Larry was on hold, he winked at me and said his pal Monroe wanted a word with
him. He asked me to go into the kitchen and make some coffee, so I did. It took me a
while to figure out the coffee pot and find things in that huge kitchen. By the time I
brought in the coffee, he was deep into his conversation with the President, discussing his
situation very calmly and reasonably, saying „Yes, sir‟ a lot.
“When he hung up, he said, „Looks like the big guy wants to talk to me some more at his
place. He may have a job for me as liaison to something or other. Sorry I gotta cut this
short, but it‟s been nice. When you‟re dressed, why don‟t you call yourself a cab, and I‟ll
pay for it.‟”
“Aha. A semi-gentleman,” declared Miriam.
“He got out some good clothes, a suit, shirt and tie. I realized he was distracted now, but I
couldn‟t let it end like that. It looked like he wasn‟t gonna say anything about seeing me
again. So, Miriam, I seized the bull by the horns. I said, „Larry, I had a wonderful time,
and you have my phone number in case you want to call me again. I‟ll be home for the
next several days, unless I go out job-hunting. See, I just quit my job at the Post.‟
“I could tell he was impressed by that. Everybody knows how much he hates that paper
for treating Pete Spencer like a god and trashing him. I made a point of mentioning, „I‟m
a very skilled secretary, in case you hear of any job openings for me.‟ He hemmed and
hawed some, but said he‟d keep that in mind. So I wished him the best of luck in his own
job hunt, and told him I wouldn‟t trouble him any longer, since I had a cell phone in my
purse and enough money for a cab. If nothing else, it was a really memorable experience,
Miriam. And if I never see him again, that‟s life.”
“You‟re amazing, Cass. Most women offer themselves as a mistress to the man they love.
You offer yourself as a secretary.”
“Oh, God, do you think that‟s possible? What if he gets some big White House job and
hires me for his staff? That really would be my absolute dream job.”
“I predict,” said Miriam generously, “that those fantastic secretarial skills of yours are
going to make you a happy woman yet.”

Miriam shared Cass‟s hopes for the future, as a friend should. That did not prevent her
from considering all the ways Cass‟s bubble could burst, even if she got her “dream job.”
Miriam was sure Larry Longford was the kind of man who would toy with the affections
of a woman like Cass, taking advantage of her practical skills while pursuing sexier
women for his other needs. Miriam was loath to spoil Cass‟s fantasy, but a friend might
need to remind her of these realities.
While she ate lunch at her desk, Miriam‟s thoughts turned to her other best friend. Last
time she had spoken to Jocelyn, it seemed every detail of the upcoming fundraiser was
falling into place. But would Jo‟s bosom buddies be taken care of that night? Miriam
picked up the phone and called the club. She would make plans to drop by this Friday
night, which would give her a chance to confirm places at the owner‟s table for herself,
and possibly Cass, when it really counted. Finding Jocelyn unavailable, she left a
message with Eric the Head Waiter.
While she awaited further news of her friends, who seemed to be drifting out of her
league, she found herself pondering a possible enemy. Was she paranoid, or were things
in her workspace slightly askew? What had Sally been up to while covering her desk
Miriam glanced through her papers and files to see if the Whisperer could have come
upon anything incriminating. The Rolodex and spiral notebooks that Cass had left behind
looked undisturbed. Likewise, the three African files that Sally herself had brought over
were in place, with the thin onePamela Whittle‟s revised applicationsandwiched
discreetly in between the two thick ones. The list of invitees to the second-cycle luncheon
had been left in plain view on her desk.
Miriam pulled open her desk drawer and glanced through several issues of The Free
Paper. The pile seemed neater than she had left it. She didn‟t doubt that Sally had enough
gall to look inside the desk, although the evidence was too scanty to accuse her. Outraged
though she was, Miriam admired such brazenness; this woman might go farther as a spy
than she would.
Miriam next zeroed in on her switchboard phone, with its constantly blinking lights. The
new “communications system” that had been installed several months earlier had so
many modern devices that most of the employees had yet to master them. It struck
Miriam that someone who understood the system could use it to her advantage. She
understood almost nothing, except that a blinking light meant someone in the system was
receiving a call, and a steady light meant that some special feature had been activated.
She saw that two steady lights were on. At some point, she must have switched her
incoming calls to Sally‟s phone prior to visiting her cubicle, and neglected to switch them
back. The other light she couldn‟t account for. Someone had activated her “conference
call” device, which enabled more than one person to listen in on a call.
Miriam searched feverishly for her phone instruction manual, finally unearthing it from
under the Free Papers in her desk. She had disdained to read it, hoping to use her phone
mostly as a phone, and to sidestep most of the receptionist chores that had fallen to Cass.
Now she discovered numerous ways that the thing could be programmed like a computer.
It seemed entirely possible to be victimized by these smart phones if you didn‟t take
self-protective measures. How many indiscreet things had she said on the phone since
yesterday? Miriam sought out and pressed a “clear” button that supposedly would remove
any programming tricks and return the phone to its traditional functions. She would make
a point of starting each morning with a clean slate.
While Miriam was engaged in this small act of counter-espionage, Mrs. Broadwater
emerged from her office and walked past, glancing at her secretary. “Reading an
instruction manual? I‟m impressed.”
Miriam, feeling slightly ridiculous, gave a short laugh. “I‟m finding out these phones are
a lot trickier than I thought.”
Mrs. B was on her way out, but paused again. “While I‟m thinking about it, Miriam, I
spoke with Sally yesterday.”
“With Sally?” Miriam tried to sound nonchalant.
“She seems to think there‟s a problem with getting files from this office when she asks
for them. Specifically, she requested the Weston and Randolph files for a special project
she‟s involved in. I had them, so I passed them on to her.”
“Oh,” said Miriam. “I guess we did have a slight misunderstanding about that. I had some
trouble getting files from her too. But I thinkwe‟ll both be more accommodating in the
“I‟m glad to hear that. I don‟t object to your zeal in protecting privileged information, but
there‟s no need to hold anything back from Sally when she‟s working on legitimate
business. If she asks for certain files, she should get them as soon as you can spare them.”
“Of course. No problem.” But after the Deputy Director left, Miriam pondered Sally‟s
“legitimate business”: evidently something to do with the Weston-Randolph plot to raise
money for Daniel Wrightman‟s African project, which would in turn speed his departure
from the Council.
Miriam reflected that Sally was a logical choice to assist in this effort, with her intimate
knowledge of money. She and her husband, the real estate magnate, lived in one of those
semi-palaces in the McLean area, maybe the same Longford-and-Renee subdivision that
had so overwhelmed Cass. Did Sally even have to work, or did she do all this for
recreation? Her husband was the kind of diversified investor who had a finger in
numerous local pies, so Miriam wouldn‟t be surprised to learn that he was helping to
raise the going-away funds for Wrightman. But if Sally knew what was afoot, why had
she bothered to snoop around Miriam‟s desk? Just because she was an inveterate
Miriam pictured Wrightman and his disciples digging wells in the equatorial sun, with
storm clouds shadowing them, while the people responsible for their departure continued
to dine luxuriously at places like the Palm Tree. No question, the rich could foment chaos
if they chose, and then stand aside. She pondered Cass‟s dinner with Larry Longford,
supposedly paid for by a part owner of the restaurant. It dawned on her that the
mysterious benefactor might be Sally‟s Frank. What was next, after Mr. Moneybags did
his part to change the politics of the Council? Some scheme to restore the Longford
regime at Redskins Park?

On Friday morning, Cass called. Again Miriam detected that smug-sheepish tone.
“Miriam, I‟m awfully sorry, but I won‟t be able to meet you at the club tonight.”
“Oh. Well, we never really established Friday nights as a definite date. But I hope we‟re
still on for a week from next Monday. You and I are supposed to have places at the head
table that night.” When Cass hesitated, Miriam prompted, “You haven‟t forgotten the
fundraiser for Lainie Palmer, have you?”
“Oh, yes, right.”
“What‟s going on with you? Don‟t tell me, let me guess. You‟ve got another date with
“I don‟t know if you can call it a date.” Excitement crept into Cass‟s voice. “He‟s coming
over tonight in a cab to avoid being followed. I think he wants to talk about my working
for him.”
“I sincerely hope that‟s not all he wants, Cass.”
“Oh, so do I. But listen, Miriam.” Cass‟s voice took on a conspiratorial tone. “You can‟t
tell a soul about this. Nobody except you and I know where Larry will be tonight, but a
lot of people would like to know. Gloria Stack from the Post keeps calling me. She‟s still
out to do that hatchet job on Larry. I denied seeing him, but she‟s sure to find out I lied.”
“You lied to a Post reporter?” exclaimed Miriam.
“I had no choice. I‟m sure Larry doesn‟t want to deal with the media until his new job is
announced. He‟s been invited to Camp David tomorrow. Isn‟t that where people go to
talk about White House jobs?”
“I guess so. But why all the secrecy beforehand?”
“I think he just likes tweaking the press. Nobody would expect to find him in a modest
little apartment in Takoma Park, except maybe Gloria. For all I know, she might be
staking out my building.”
“Oh, come now. Aren‟t you being a little paranoid? You‟re not exactly his best-known
“I didn‟t say I was.” Cass betrayed a touch of annoyance. “Gloria already talked to his
so-called fiancée, the cocktail waitress, who said she didn‟t know where he was spending
his nights lately, and didn‟t care. Gloria asked me why I said all those things about Larry
on the radio, and why I quit my Post job. I have a feeling she‟s gonna be relentless.
Honestly, Miriam, I don‟t know why that kind of work interests you.”
“That kind of work is essential to democracy.” Miriam knew this sounded pompous, but
she believed it. “We‟ve got to have reporters like Ms. Stack, as annoying as they might
be. Lying to them iswell, almost un-American.”
“Fine. Let someone try to put me in jail for it.”
“Cass, I just don‟t want to see you get hurt. I don‟t know if Larry Longford is worth all
this trouble. Don‟t forget he‟s got a past. He‟s had two wives charge him with desertion.
His own kid got injured in one of his drunken driving episodes. There‟ve been other
women and other erratic incidents, and those are just the things we know about.”
“I know his history,” said Cass irritably. “I never said he was a candidate for sainthood.
All I know is, he was determined to help those street kids, and I saw how much they
worshiped him. If kids like that believe in him, why shouldn‟t I?”
“I know he has a heart of gold when it comes to inner city kids. I heard the show, you
don‟t have to rehash it.” Then, regretting her harshness, Miriam hastened to add, “Cass,
honey, you know I wish you all the happiness in the world. I think you deserve a man
who treats you like a queen, and you deserve to get your dream job, too. All I‟m saying
is, be careful. I don‟t see Larry Longford as a one-woman man. Maybe you‟ll be the one
to tame him, if it‟s possible at all.”
“I don‟t know if it is. But I do believe in his basic decency. I just want toto nurture that
a little, if I can.”
“If any woman can nurture a wild man, Cass, it‟s probably you. Maybe one day soon
you‟ll call me from the White House, where you‟ll have settled into one of the most
high-powered secretarial jobs in town. By then, though, you might be too upscale for
your old friends. I‟ll have to kiss up to you like mad to get an invitation to some state
“Miriam, you know me better than to think I could ever snub you or Jocelyn.” By now
Cass was mollified, even touched.
“I know you wouldn‟t do it on purpose. But on the other hand, I know now you won‟t be
joining Jo and me at the head table for that fundraiser, like we all planned.”
“Why on earth not? I‟m putting it on my calendar right now. When did you say it was, a
week from Monday?”
“Forget about it, Cass. Stay as far away from the Kramerkeller that night as you can.”
“Why should I?”
“God, don‟t you realize by then you‟ll be an official member of the Longford camp? The
Kramerkeller that night will belong to Pete Spencer and his fiancée and their legions of
fans. Anybody connected to Longford will be as welcome as head lice.”
“Oh, come on, Miriam. You don‟t still believe in that silly quarterback controversy, do
you? Now that Larry‟s quit the team, what does it accomplish? I always thought it was
silly anyway.”
Miriam laughed at this disclaimer. “Trust me. The controversy isn‟t over by a long shot.
If anything, I can see it escalating, now that there‟s no pretense of team spirit to restrain
it. If the Longford and Spencer brigades ever mix it up in public, after the way Larry got
dumped, it might start a war.”
“Now, Miriam, that‟s just your overheated imagination talking. I say it‟s time Larry and
Pete made peace with each other, and their fans should do the same. And I have every
intention of being at that fundraiser, if I can fit it into my schedule.”
“We‟ll just see if that‟s possible,” teased Miriam.

That evening after work, as Miriam made her way across Dupont Circle toward the club,
she grappled with envy. How could she feel genuinely happy for friends who barely had
time for her anymore? She had a premonition, as she pounded up the Stairway to Heaven,
that thoughts like this would drag down her evening.
The room was filling up early, so she found a booth where she nursed her cheap wine,
greasy cheeseburger and potato chips. Heinz stayed behind the bar, conversing with
patrons there; Jocelyn barely had time to wave at her while she entertained a group at the
head table. Eric the waiter, although overworked, managed to refill her wine glass before
it was empty.
It had been a mistake to come in alone, especially if she lost track of how much she was
drinking. Despite all the riotous good times she had known here, it could be poison to the
lonely and vulnerable. She watched the growing crowd with a sour eye. Who would
guess, judging by the present clientele, that a high-profile event was to take place ten
days from now? She knew Jocelyn was considering a steep cover charge, enforced by
bouncers, to reduce the riffraff that night—although that would contradict her
“free-for-all” ad. Right now there were undesirables as far as the eye could see, shouting,
throwing beer in each other‟s faces and passing marijuana under the tables. Miriam felt
her evening could be salvaged only if Calvin appeared. But since it wasn‟t the end of the
month, his usual press time, that was doubtful.
“Come on, Miriam, drink up. We don‟t allow loitering here.”
Miriam looked up to find Jocelyn in jovial spirits. Her friend sat down opposite her and
grabbed a handful of chips.
“I‟m conferring with some political types over there.” Jocelyn gestured toward the
suit-and-tie crowd at the head table. “They‟re from the Palmer campaign. But I just had
to slip over here and find out why you‟re so down in the mouth.”
Miriam tried to articulate what was wrong, but Jocelyn was impatient with all doubts and
fears. She solved Miriam‟s problems with a wave of her hand. “You‟re too prone to sit
around stewing. You‟ve got enough smarts, now what you need is gall. From what
you‟ve told me about your new exalted position, you‟ve already managed to suck up to
Old Prune Face. Just keep doing that and you‟ll uncover a lot of bodies, because trust me,
that woman‟s as corrupt as a sewer. By the way, have you started writing that article you
were gonna do for Calvin?”
Miriam explained her recent change of heart toward the Deputy Director, and her reasons
for believing that the Director might be equally corrupt. Either way, the scandal she had
uncovered so far was penny ante stuff.
“Bullshit,” exclaimed Jocelyn. “For all you know, you‟re working for the most cutthroat
murderers in D. C.”
“Oh, Jo,” laughed Miriam, “that‟s a little extreme, even for you. What have you been
smoking tonight?”
“Never mind that. Trust me, you have a bang-up story just staring you in the face. I could
sense it when I worked in the Latin American program, even if I couldn‟t prove it. Could
it be any other way with a President like Bailey? He was always bound to take us back to
old-time militarism, since he‟s an overgrown, frustrated warrior himself. Just like him to
use innocent-looking agencies like the Peace Council as fronts for his beloved military. I
say follow the guns, Miriam, not the money. Not that the bastard‟ll ever fight a real war
with serious casualties that might threaten his popularity. He‟ll stick to quickie wars,
feel-good police actions, where he can get in and out quickly and preen like a real man.
And the public‟ll eat it up.”
“Old Prune Face already thinks he‟s a real man,” said Miriam.
“Yeah, I‟ll bet. Can‟t you see it falling into place? Old Broadwater helps the President set
a trap for Wrightman‟s handpicked grantees. They‟ll be sent into the teeth of some flash
civil war. Or maybe they‟ll all be taken hostage, which would give Bailey an excuse to
rattle sabers and try to rescue them. How can you forget those Peace grantees who‟ve
already been killed overseas?”
“God, this again? It was one grantee. And that hardly proves my bosses are murderers.”
But Jo‟s wild-eyed notions had taken on a new assurance and sophistication. Miriam felt
her own zest for conspiracy theories rekindled. “You think Mrs. B might intentionally put
Wrightman and his group in jeopardy? I know she‟s always resented his relationship with
Renee, but that seems a little dire.”
“Really, I‟m just trying to shake up your complacency about your job, not to mention
your life.”
“You have,” said Miriam. “Looks like you‟ve shaken up the whole room.” Jo‟s voice had
carried, arousing the politicos at the head table, other curious patrons, and even one or
two of the musicians who had begun to set up their equipment on the stage.
“Well, good,” declared Jocelyn. “Let‟s shout it to the rafters. I want you to go for it.
Declare war on the Peace Council murderers.”
“Where do you pick up all these politicalgrenades? And all this pop psychology about
the President? You haven‟t been in a college political science class for two years. You
been surfing radical sites on the Internet, or what?”
“You think I have time for surfing? I‟m running a business here. No, it‟s all in the
atmosphere. This is a very politically charged place, you know. You just ask Calvin,
when he comes in, if anything I said is too way out for this administration.”
“Oh, yeah, Calvin. Just the person to ask for a reasonable analysis.” But Miriam felt a
surge of hope. “You think he‟s coming in tonight?”
“He might. Lately he‟s been dropping by almost every week to publicize his web page.
Yeah, things are really cooking here, Miriam. But I‟m warning you, the place is also
lousy with spies.”
“Like who? The FBI? The CIA?” Skeptical as always, Miriam nevertheless glanced
around the room. She caught sight of a stocky figure with frizzy brown hair in the far
corner. The woman ducked behind the stage backdrop, avoiding eye contact. Miriam‟s
spine tingled with recognition, but she couldn‟t place it.
Unnerved, Miriam turned back to Jocelyn, who was now well into her own business. She
mulled over possible arrangements of her head table on the night of the fundraiser. She
reiterated her commitment to honor her dearest friends, Miriam and Cass, with prominent
places. She figured on asking the politicos who were sitting there now to share that space.
She anticipated inviting a few other community leaders; the experts would have to advise
her on who might realistically accept. Whatever else she did, she must hold a convenient
spot for Pete Spencer to occupy after he made his entrance as Lainie‟s escort.
“Of course, my special guests will be getting in free. I‟m thinking ten dollars is a
reasonable cover charge for ordinary customers. We‟re gonna have professional security
that night to keep everything straight.”
“Professional security? You mean big bouncers?”
“I‟d advise you and Cass to get here no later than six, or all bets will be off. I can‟t
guarantee there won‟t be extra VIPs dropping in who‟ll expect to be seated up front.”
“Cass is one VIP who might not show.” Miriam explained the complications in their
friend‟s life, and exposed her own growing reluctance to come here alone.
“Then don‟t come alone. If Cass craps out, bring someone else. That Whittle woman,
maybe, or your ex-husband. Anybody you like.”
“I don‟t know how available they‟ll be.” Miriam couldn‟t resist another glance at the
space near the stage, which was empty now. “Especially since my ex-husband happens to
be married.”
“Hell, so is Nick Nichols. You think that‟s gonna stop us from living it up when we get
the chance? And that chance is coming soon.”
Jocelyn paused and eyed Heinz, who was mopping down the bar with angry motions.
Finally, she lowered her voice. “I have a business meeting scheduled with N, P and J in
Richmond, the night before they arrive here. Afterwards, I have a follow-up meeting
planned with Nick in a nice hotel room. Please keep that second part under your hat.”
“Oh, no problem. I‟m good at keeping my friends‟ secrets.” This, Miriam realized, was a
lie. She hurried on, raising her voice for the benefit of her possible stalker. “That‟s
because I have no life of my own.”
“Bullshit,” said Jocelyn merrily.
“Jo, I know I‟ve said this before. But are you sure you‟ve thought about what you‟re
doing? Isn‟t it kind of risky, jeopardizing your present situation?” She motioned toward
the bar.
“I can handle my present situation just fine.” Jo shrugged in the same direction.
She‟s timed it just right, Miriam guessed. What‟s another pregnancy to the Fertility
Machine? If it‟s a boy this time, she‟ll get a shot at her dream. I know Nick keeps hinting
he might leave his wife, but only for a son. Yes, Jo could be set for lifeor until the next
dazzling groupie offers him the fruits of her uterus. Miriam sighed, and disdained to offer
advice. Jo probably would deny she had any plan, other than to let nature take its course.
“Who are the latest noisemakers?” asked Miriam, as the band started to tune up.
“Whatdaya mean, noisemakers?” Jocelyn looked offended. “That‟s Amorphous, the band
I‟m managing. Don‟t you remember that night at the stadium when I threw beer on Brent
Fame‟s T-shirt and ruined it? Just take a gander at what they‟re wearing now. I helped
design those shirts.”
“You‟re a true Renaissance woman.”
“They might open the show for N, P and J the night of the fundraiser, so I want Lainie‟s
people to hear them now.”
“They‟ll get an earful, all right.” Miriam flinched as the band‟s warm-up notes blasted
through the amplifiers.
“I better get back to the Committee and finish up our meeting while we can still talk.”
“Okay, Jo. I guess I‟ll leave as soon as I‟ve eaten. It‟s getting a little noisy for me.”
“No, stay put,” said Jocelyn. “Soak up the atmosphere. It might be just what the doctor
Miriam doubted if a headache would be what the doctor ordered. But Jo managed to hit
on the right medicine.
“Seriously, getting back to what we were talking about, someone ought to investigate that
Peace scholar‟s murder. It‟s never really been solved.”
“There was an airtight official explanation,” replied Miriam automatically.
“Wake up, will you?” Jocelyn pounded her fist on the table. “A journalist poking his nose
into a political squabble in Columbia is killed by some palace guard, supposedly by
accident. A perfect excuse for Bailey to send support to the counter-revolutionaries
who‟re fighting the leftist government. Has anybody considered the possibility that
Bailey might have arranged that killing himself?”
“That‟s a big leap, Jo,” protested Miriam.
“But it‟s so perfect. It makes him look warlike and righteous at the same time.”
“If you‟ll remember,” said Miriam, restraining her growing excitement, “both
governments agreed to stand off and call it a fluke incident. The case was closed, and it
would be tough to reopen.”
“It‟s a travesty that nobody looked into it more closely at the time. You and I were so
naïve then. I might have done something, but I had a few too many personal issues going
on back then. Like having the baby and putting her up for adoption.” Jocelyn hurried past
that painful subject. She pounded the table again, and the wine flew.
“I would bet money that same story is brewing in one of your countries right now. Look
here, I‟m gonna have Eric bring you a notebook and pencil. You start writing that
bang-up article for Calvin like you promised.”
“Right now?” exclaimed Miriam.
“No time like the present. The place is rocking, you‟ve got ideas, and hopefully Calvin‟ll
come in. I want you to get cracking.”
Miriam had no choice but to write. Jo had rushed off to give the order to Eric and to
restart her political meeting. She saw to it that Miriam was set up with a steno pad and
pencil, unlimited refills of coffee, and a creative ambience.
Miriam wrote out her theories and suspicions in indiscriminate bursts, pausing
occasionally to survey the room and vibrate with the noise. She began by citing Jocelyn‟s
Columbian example, which gained credence when she put it in writing. She added some
historical perspective concerning the “overgrown warrior” mentality that seemed to beset
certain Presidents. Soon she had concocted a vision of duplicity and betrayal, tending
toward bloodshed in Africa. Central to the plot were the machinations of the devious
President Bailey, who could charm the American public into thinking he was a
peacemaker at heart. In the background was his aspiring handmaiden, Elaine Broadwater.
Miriam fingered Mrs. B, the Peace Council‟s Director-in-waiting, as the author of a plot
to send the current Director and his idealistic well-diggers into peril.
While she created, Miriam felt connected to everythingeven to Calvin, who had arrived
at last to hold court from his usual perch. He took no notice of her, and she decided she
preferred this anonymity. She thought of passing her story to the editor with a pseudonym
attached. But she would need stronger protection than that, in case the facts turned out to
be less than factual. She inserted a disclaimer stating that her piece was intended as a
cautionary fairy tale. She scratched out the references to Bailey and Broadwater,
substituting fanciful names. She transformed them into a macabre royal couple in a
kingdom gone amok.
Around 10:30, when she paused to reflect on the results, Jocelyn came by and snatched
the notebook from her. Miriam made a pretense of fighting her for it, then let it go. Jo
squinted at the story while she was filling in for Heinz behind the bar. When she brought
it back, wine-splashed, with Miriam‟s check, she advised, “You could really nail the
creeps if you wanted to. Why don‟t you just tell it straight?”
“Are you kidding? I‟d get fired. And sued.”

The next morning, as soon as she got up, Miriam tore the notebook apart and threw the
pieces in the garbage. But she continued to ruminate about it. Now that Jocelyn had seen
the story, there was no recalling it. The “Peace Council war theory” would be absorbed
into the volatile Kramerkeller atmosphere where so many crackpot theories were
conceived and thrived.
On Monday morning, she woke up in a sweat, unsure of what she had done. It was time
to go into the office and face the woman whom she had practically accused of being an
accessory to murder. What if these ideas came to light and could be identified as hers?
She would plead temporary insanity from the mood-altering Kramerkeller air.
But she went to work, and nothing cataclysmic happened. The Deputy Director seemed
courteous but distracted all week as she fed Miriam a continuous flow of correspondence.
On Tuesday, Miriam called the Palm Tree and confirmed the final arrangements for the
second cycle luncheon to be held on Friday.
When Cass phoned on Wednesday, Miriam exclaimed, “Tell me you‟re calling from your
fabulous new White House office.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” said Cass. “I‟m still at home, waiting.”
“You mean you haven‟t been offered a job yet?”
“Oh, Larry definitely wants me. I mean he wants me to work for him in some capacity.
But it might not be in the White House.”
“Oh, Cass,” said Miriam, “the guy‟s really pulling your chain. What happened to all his
fancy promises?”
“He‟s not pulling my chain. He never once promised me an actual White House position.
He‟s gonna serve as the President‟s liaison to the local community. So logically, he‟ll be
setting up shop in some neighborhood.”
“Where, exactly? Anacostia?”
“It doesn‟t matter where,” argued Cass. “What matters is, I‟m gonna help him accomplish
something important. He told me he doesn‟t want groupies or opportunists working for
him. He‟ll only hire people who have a sincere interest in making the city a safer, more
prosperous, more humane place.”
What a prince Larry Longford had become in the last week. “Well, Cass, I believe that
describes youeven though I suspect your love for the guy is also a motivating factor.
He better do a little more for you than abandon you to the streets.”
“He won‟t abandon me,” said Cass with surprising confidence.

Two hours later, Jocelyn called. After rambling uncharacteristically for a minute, she
came to the point: “Heard from Cass lately?”
“Just a short while ago. I wouldn‟t count on her for the fundraiser Monday night, now
that she has a sort of relationship with Larry Longford.”
“Yeah, what‟s the deal with that?”
“Hard to say. I don‟t even think Cass knows yet, although she‟s bursting with ambition
and lust. Why don‟t you call her yourself, Jo, if you really want to know?”
“I‟m not the one who really wants to know. It‟s Lainie‟s committee. They‟d like to find
out, sort of surreptitiously, what Longford‟s up to.”
“I guess there‟s no harm in telling you what I heard about his new job.” But as soon as
Miriam told, she saw the harm.
“It‟s just what they suspect,” exclaimed Jocelyn. “Bailey‟s planning to use Longford as a
front for some plot toto pacify the District, and take away what home rule they have.”
“You‟re going off half-cocked again,” warned Miriam. But Jocelyn, immersed in
Kramerkeller politics, had embraced the notion that ordinary citizens were in constant
battle with their government. The Palmer Committee had enlightened her to the
possibilities of local warfare. She foresaw that Longford would be unleashed in the
community with a kindly face, but his combative nature would rise to the fore. Sooner or
later he would inspire the same opposition on the streets as he had in the stadium crowds.
Bailey would use the resulting disorder as an excuse “to declare martial law or
“Once Bailey‟s conquered Africa and the District of Columbia,” exclaimed Miriam,
“what‟ll be left?”
Back to her brisk self, Jocelyn was oblivious to sarcasm. “Gotta run, kid. Let me know
soon who you‟re bringing to the fundraiser. Personally, I think it‟d be cool to see you and
Jeff together again.”
“Are you trying to get me knocked off, Jo? For all I know, his wife is having me trailed.”
“I‟d like to see what remarriage has done for the old boy. If anything, I‟ll bet it‟s
intensified his love for you.”
“Speaking of married men,” said Miriam, “good luck with Nick in Richmond.”

Soon after this conversation about him, Jeff called, full of apologies for standing Miriam
up last Monday night. Although it never had been a definite date, Miriam had sweated
out the football game alone, growing more and more disgusted with this waiting game.
Her confidence was not bolstered by Jeff‟s explanation that he had been on the road with
his wife. They had spent the weekend on their southern Virginia farm and hadn‟t returned
until late Monday.
“You were gone all weekend?” demanded Miriam. “When did you leave for the farm?”
“Saturday morning. Why?”
“It‟s just that last Friday nightoh, never mind, I was probably hallucinating.”
Miriam softened and almost sympathized as Jeff poured out a tale of woe. It seemed the
long country weekend with his wife had been mostly hell on earth. They had hunted
together for a few hours, enjoying the country air and space. They had spent the rest of
the time arguing about his shortcomings as a lover, a researcher, and a supportive spouse.
Much as he loved the place, he now wanted to sell it, split the proceeds and get out.
“If she doesn‟t keep you on the road too long this weekend,” ventured Miriam, in a
risk-taking mood, “how about coming to the fundraiser at the club next Monday night?
It‟ll be much more exciting than watching football at home. Besides, Jocelyn has this idea
you should be my escort. She wants to seat us at the head table with her hot-shot politicos
and celebrities.”
Jeff, sounding intrigued, promised he would “definitely try” to get there.

On Thursday morning, Sally the Whisperer stalked in and shoved a piece of paper under
Miriam‟s nose.
“You better read the latest news accordin‟ to this crazy Hispanic, Calvin Martinez, if you
haven‟t already. I just got it off the Internet, and I think it‟s an absolute riot.”
“What were you doing on the Internet?” inquired Miriam, taking the paper. “You must
have been slumming in the stock room.”
This was meant to be funny, but Sally took it amiss. She patted down her creamy silk
blouse, fingered her gold chain necklace, and professed not to know what Miriam meant.
“Gawd, I just went in there for red pens, and happened to see this on the screen. I asked
the guys to print it out for me. I‟ve never thought of them as my inferiors.”
“Oh, yeah? Do you know their names?” Having stumped Sally, Miriam continued, trying
to keep it light and teasing, “And why was a Program Assistant getting her own supplies?
I thought you were a stickler for protocol. You should have made a secretary do it.”
“Why don‟t you read what I gave you?” Sally punched the paper in Miriam‟s hands. “I‟d
like to know how that Martinez got hold of this.”
Miriam began to read aloud an item about a plot cooked up by the Bailey Administration
to make Larry Longford a “local warlord.” “Not that,” said Sally. “See if you can find
something about the agency we work for.”
Miriam skipped several paragraphs and reached an item that she found prudent to read
silently. “Sources at the quasi-government agency that administers U. S. Peace grants
believe they have uncovered an Administration plot to award certain third world grants to
teachers and researchers who may be used as bait for hit-and-run military actions. There
has been speculation that this policy was the impetus for the “accidental” shooting of a
journalist in Columbia two years ago, and is being contemplated as a means to destabilize
nations such as Central Africa and Nigeria.”
Miriam furrowed her brow and shook her head, as if she never had heard anything to beat
this. “It‟s an interesting theory, Sally, but it would be hard to prove.” She wondered what
she had done, and how far it would go.
“Sounds to me like some blabbermouth has been in bed with Calvin Martinez.”
“Excuse me?” Miriam let her mouth drop open. “You think I‟m his source at the
Council? It could just as easily be you.”
“You‟re the one who‟s been collectin‟ skinny files as if you thought they were bait.”
“You‟ve handled a few of those yourself lately,” Miriam shot back.
“At least I never tamper with the courier‟s envelopes.”
“I haven‟t done that for weeks,” blurted Miriam.
“Who else but you collects Free Papers?”
“And who would know that except an office spy?”
“Well, I just wonder,” concluded Sally, snatching back the paper, “what Mrs. Broadwater
will make of this.”
“She‟s not in right now,” said Miriam, trying to gather her courage, “and I doubt she has
time forfairy tales.”
“If you‟re so sure of that, maybe you won‟t mind tellin‟ her I‟d like to see her when she
has a moment.”
Miriam did convey this message later that afternoon. She was relieved when Mrs. B
snapped, “It‟ll have to wait,” as if she knew what Sally had to say and disdained to worry
about who might consider her an accessory to murder.


                   CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The Oxymoron

Shortly after noon on Friday, Miriam took a table by herself at the Palm Tree restaurant,
as close to the bar as possible. She intended to observe the dynamics and nuances of this
second cycle luncheon. To the naked eye, the event was unfolding much like the initial
luncheon over a month before. Six new grantees, soon to depart for their overseas posts,
were being wined and dined by the Council brass at the large table up front, while lesser
members of the Council staff sat in the main dining room, awaiting their chance to greet
the honorees. As before, Sally, Ginny and Amelia were giggling together at a table close
to where “Gay” Gary, newly engaged to Ginny, sat with Andy, embroiled in a business
Miriam sized up the differences between this event and the previous one. Admittedly, the
third world-bound grantees had been served the same gourmet sandwiches and
sumptuous fruit salads as their Europe-bound counterparts. But the open bar had been
eliminatedwhich Pamela Whittle had noted in her ringing voice. Miriam was more
concerned with the composition of this group, having known in advance that today‟s
honorees were not altogether new. There were two repeat invitees: Phillip Weston,
serving as Mrs. B‟s escort, and Ed Randolph, her son-in-law, whom she continued to treat
with cool disdain. This time, Miriam resolved to clear out well before Puck Cavenaugh‟s
The Director‟s speech before this group began as if he were reading a script of last
month‟s performance. On that occasion he had tweaked the Europe-bound grantees as
“privileged” and almost asked to be fired. Today he reiterated his peace philosophy, and
alluded to the differences between have and have-not grantees, which apparently
persisted in his mind despite today‟s effort to honor the latter group. Before anyone could
sense his direction, he announced his resignation. He was leaving in a few weeks to
found an organization that would allow him to “discard this three-piece suit and be an
unapologetic well-digger.”
Silence descended upon the Director‟s listeners, as if the event had become a requiem.
Miriam studied as many reactions as she could. Renee, here once again with her husband
in tow, gave another subtly teary-eyed performance. Whittle was eyeing Wrightman with
a look of rapt attention, as if she were ready to pick up whatever pieces Renee had left.
The Director hastened to add:
“But I‟m not leaving the Council with any sense of incompletion. On the contrary, if I‟m
able to accomplish anything worthwhile in my new post, it‟ll derive from the lessons I
learned during my years as a Peace Council grantee, Program Officer and finally
Director. My roots are there. Furthermore, I know I‟m leaving the place in very good
He made a courtly bow toward the Deputy Director seated at his right. She nodded and
smiled in response to a smattering of applause.
“Anyone who has been in charge of an agency like this one has to be concerned with his
or her legacy,” resumed the Director. “My idea of a legacy is that I lived up to the name
of this organization. The United States Peace Councilwhat a great notion that is. I‟d
like to think I‟ve promoted the ideals of world peace and brotherhood.”
So far so good, thought Miriam, relaxing with her second cup of coffee. Wrightman will
depart in a cloud of idealism and non-controversy. But she tensed up when the outgoing
Director turned again to Mrs. B.
“And I know my successor well enough to know that legacy will continue.”
Another smattering of applause seemed to unsettle the Deputy Director. She looked at
Wrightman suspiciously.
“I know this agency will endure as a Peace Council. We have never consented to be
anyone‟s Covert War Council, despite what some Web Wag might call us. And while it‟s
true some Peace grantees have been exposed to hazardous conditionsand probably will
be againI don‟t know of anybody, ever, who has been knowingly sent under Council
auspices to his or her probable doom. I trust that legacy will endure, because I trust
Elaine Broadwater to preserve it.”
Miriam flushed so hotly that she was sure half the people in the room noticed it. Her
hastily scribbled fairy tale kept coming to life in the unlikeliest venues. The villainness of
the piece, Mrs. B, was dabbing her eyes with a napkin, as if moved by Daniel
Wrightman‟s faith in her.
Another round of applause brought the Deputy Director to her feet to address the group.
Her remarks were a variation on the “one big happy family” theme that she had
articulated for Miriam in their last private meeting. She hoped to break down the
“artificial barriers” that had built up between separate groups of grantees. Occasional
get-togethers like this were a good method. She hoped to expand the practice of asking
grantees in “well-traveled” areas to serve as consultants to those bound for “less familiar”
areas. The Peace program, she declared, was a worldwide proposition. There would be no
haves and have-nots in her administration.
As if to illustrate, Faith Taylor bustled into the room shortly after Mrs. B had concluded
her remarks. Here was the princess of all “have” grantees, on her way to Florence, taking
the time to drop by a gathering dominated by have-nots.
“Well, look who‟s here,” sang out Whittle, who had started toward the bar. “Faith the
Fundraiser, the toast of Texas, has arrived in her new capacity as a consultant on world
Miriam cringed at the professor‟s boldness, but the occupants of the main table had
become too absorbed in their own conversations to notice. Taylor rushed forward to
embrace Whittle, only a few feet from Miriam‟s table. “Well, if it isn‟t Professor Pamela,
perverter of youth. What a thrill to see you again. Let me buy you a drink.”
“I was about to suggest that myself. After all, you‟re the one who can afford it.” Whittle
gave Miriam a sidelong glance, as if she were the Council official responsible for the
paying bar.
“Fair enough. Save your money to pay for that exotic perfume I‟m bringing you back
from Europe.”
Miriam wondered if it would be acceptable behavior to get up and stroll toward the bar
where she could go on eavesdropping. The dynamics between the two professors still
intrigued her. Besides, she was curious to find out what kind of “consulting” job had
brought Faith Taylor to Washington six weeks before her grant was scheduled to begin.
While Miriam contemplated making a move, Mrs. Broadwater trumped her. The sight of
Taylor seemed to have spurred her social instincts. She jumped to her feet, beckoned her
previously ignored son-in-law, and escorted him to the bar. Miriam watched as she all but
ordered Ed and Faith to renew the tentative acquaintance they had struck up last month.
Her daughter‟s marriage might be on the rocks, but Ed Randolph could always be put to
Well, let Mrs. B play her games. Miriam shrugged off the connections being made just
over her shoulder. She wouldn‟t bother to eavesdrop, but would go on nursing her coffee.
She wrote off these people as petty thieves, too banal for a real expose. They should
choke on those “Council ideals” they pretended to embrace. She had done all she could to
bring their activities to light, having satirized them in her own oblique way and letting
Calvin pick up the thread. To all appearances, she had gotten away with it.
If only she could find one hero among her cast of villains. Everyone had applauded the
Director‟s intention to organize a group of “well-diggers in the wilderness,” but not
everyone knew the truththat at least some of the funding was to be under-the-table. She
had begun to like the Deputy Director, who could help her immeasurably in her career,
but there was no telling how far that woman might go in the service of her President.
Worst of all was the turnabout of Pamela Whittle, who once had asked to be judged on
her credentials. There she was, schmoozing with the same people she had urged Miriam
to investigate.
The mystery of Whittle troubled her most. Since the professor had avoided real
conversation for weeks, Miriam could only guess at her motives. Was it love or money
drawing her to Africa? Somehow Miriam could not picture Whittle salivating over the
theoretical oil fields and diamond mines that might be ripe for exploitation. The look on
her face while the Director was speaking had not resembled avarice. More likely the
professor had fallen in love with the image of Daniel Wrightman in sweaty safari clothes,
laboring for the people.
The effect of three cups of coffee sent Miriam scurrying to the ladies‟ room. When she
came out of her stall, she found herself face to face with Whittle.
“You‟ve still got the knack for arranging these bathroom tête-à-têtes, dearie. Looks like
you got me alone.”
“I wasn‟t trying to get you alone,” protested Miriam. “It‟s pure chance. I‟m not working
on any investigation right now.”
“Oh, that‟s real good. You still come off like a little innocent.”
Miriam tried to laugh. “Hardly. I admit I‟m a little curious about your posting to Africa.
Why are you giving up a cushy job at the University of Maryland to go teach in a place
that could be not only uncomfortable but dangerous?”
“Try to understand, dearie. It‟s an adventure, and it‟s different. And I don‟t expect it to be
all that uncomfortable. You should know your Council looks after its grantees no matter
where they‟re posted. I expect to have the best of both worlds. I‟ll be teaching in a nice,
clean classroom, while at the same time I‟ll be in a position to give aid and comfort to
Daniel Wrightman‟s mission.”
“You‟ll have it made,” remarked Miriam, “as long as no wars or violence happen to
break out in your vicinity.”
“That‟s the rub, isn‟t it? Pesky wars that break out when we least expect them. What if I
perish in one of those? I‟ll end up a martyr.”
“Not that it‟s likely to happen,” said Miriam. “Remember what the Director said. The
Council wouldn‟t knowingly send anybody”
“Oh, please. I don‟t want to hear the party line, not from you. You‟re the one who first
alerted me to all those delicious elements percolating out there, the illicit affairs and
Texas oil and secret bank accounts and Presidential connections. If you can‟t make
something out of all that, you better hang it up as a reporter.”
“I‟ve already done that,” insisted Miriam.
“No way. You gotta live up to that sisterhood you belong to, the innocent-looking
secretaries capable of unearthing monstrosities in their workplaces. Especially when you
have an opportunity to hook up with a paranoiac, loudmouthed ex-student of mine, whom
I once considered recommending for psychiatric evaluation.”
“Pamela, listen to me.” Miriam put emphasis on the professor‟s first name. “You may
have picked up a wild story that‟s been on Calvin‟s web page. I have a confession to
make about that story. It‟s all a fantasymy fantasy. I made it up in the middle of a
drunken brawl at the Kramerkeller. I guess I was angry at Calvin that night because he
wouldn‟t even look my way, and he had trashed my earlier ideas as penny ante. The
angrier I got, the more murder and mayhem turned up in my story. But it‟s not real, it‟s
just an allegory. And I didn‟t even give it to Calvin directly, so I can‟t believe how far it‟s
This disclaimer seemed to bounce off Whittle. The professor‟s shining eyes began to
focus on some distant image.
“We all have to decide, sooner or later, what we would die for. Should we be willing to
die for a man if he‟s a true hero to us? What if he‟s a married man? I‟ll bet the very idea
of adultery rattles your innocent bones.”
“Not exactly,” replied Miriam.
“But the adultery part is just a technicality, when you‟re risking everything to expose a
President as a murderer. I would do it in a heartbeat if I could count on someone to tell
the world about it afterward.”
“Personally, I would rather see you come home safely than to write a bang-up story about
your death,” said Miriam gallantly. “I just hope you‟ll be as cautious as possible.”
“Screw caution. It‟s not my goal in life just to survive.”
Whittle grabbed Miriam by the arms and locked eyes with her. “I know the odds are
you‟ll get your wish, and I‟ll return home in one piece and resume my cushy teaching
job. But if by some weird twist of fate, something should happen to me, I want to be
memorialized. Tell me right now, Miriam, if you‟re capable of that.”
Miriam wasn‟t sure whether Whittle was drunk, pulling her leg, or caught up in some
private melodrama. But the rare use of her first name seemed to formalize the deal. “Sure
I am,” she declared.

By noon on Monday, Miriam‟s every thought was focused on the Lainie Palmer
fundraiser that night. She had been warned to get there no later than six to claim her
promised seat at the main table. She knew she would have to fend for herself, as Jocelyn
would be distracted by a thousand matters great and small.
That afternoon, as Mrs. B kept a stream of correspondence flowing her way, Miriam took
the time to make two phone calls. Jeff reiterated that he would “definitely try” to get to
the club tonight, for a few minutes at least, but sounded off-balance and hurried. Cass,
she learned, would be a definite no-show. Still unemployed, Cass claimed to have a “very
important meeting” scheduled with Larry Longford.
“Sounds great,” teased Miriam. “That second very important meeting is probably more
than most of his women get.” Cass insisted that this wasn‟t a date, but a business
consultation that she expected would lead to a job offer.
Miriam managed to leave at 5:30, while Mrs. B was on the phone. She walked quickly, as
if she were late. But as she pounded up the Stairway to Heaven, her footsteps echoed
eerily. How could she be the first to arrive at an event that was supposed to change the
face of D. C. politics?
She felt stranger still as she entered the dining room. Eric and Leroy hurried toward her
as if she were important, and escorted her to the empty head table. Leroy brought her the
traditional cheeseburger smothered in potato chips, while Eric set a dark beer before her.
As minutes passed in solitude, Miriam grew more and more uncomfortable and
disoriented. Had she mistaken the date or time or place? Nothing seemed to be going on.
She felt better when Eric and Leroy began laying down special place mats and napkins
decorated with an outline of the image that had appeared on Jocelyn‟s publicity flyer, the
illusion of Lainie Palmer posing arm-in-arm with Nichols, Powers and Judd. A “Lainie
For Mayor” slogan appeared beneath this impression. Glancing overhead, Miriam saw
another sign that this place was ready for a blowout. Two large plastic bubbles, filled
with balloons and confetti, hung precariously from the ceiling.
Sipping her dark beer and munching slowly, Miriam relaxed. She would be in a position
to observe everything. As soon as she began to savor her solitude, it was shattered. The
door behind the bar slammed open, and the battling co-managers stormed out.
“You‟re gonna be onstage tonight, so what more do you want?” yelled Jocelyn. “I
cancelled an appearance by the band I manage, just so your own pathetic group can
appear instead at a major event like this. That‟s all you„ve ever wanted, to play those
stupid drums. That‟s the only reason you own a goddamned club in the first placea
club you‟d run into the ground if it wasn‟t for me. Not that I expect you to appreciate it.
You just go your way tonight and I‟ll go mine.”
“Fine,” returned Heinz. “I‟ll play the drums, and you just go manage whatever it is you
manage. I‟ll be totally oblivious. You can screw Nick Nichols under the bandstand during
the show for all I care.”
Jocelyn and Heinz kept shouting as the first major guests arrived. Two advance men for
the Councilwoman took seats at Miriam‟s table, looked her up and down and seemed to
find her acceptable. The quarrel ended as Heinz climbed onto the stage to set up his
equipment. He was joined almost instantaneously by his old band mates, the group called
Invasion, who entered by the stage door.
Jocelyn stopped at the head table, but barely had time to acknowledge Miriam. “I‟m on
my way to the hotel to make sure the real band is getting ready,” she told Lainie‟s staff.
She shrugged at Invasion, who were beginning a sound check. “These people are just
filler. They‟ll rev up the crowd a little before the main event starts.”
Lainie‟s people seemed to like the idea of a general “revving up” before their candidate
made her appearance. Jocelyn prepared to rush off in a businesslike flurry, which didn‟t
fool Miriam. Her real business was to grab some private time with Nick at the hotel
before assembling the rest of the band. On her way out, she gave loud orders to the
bouncer who was now on duty at the door. “You can let in about a hundred paying
customers, that‟s it. Ignore Heinz if he says let them all in.” She glared at the drummer.
“We‟re not trying to entertain the whole damned city here tonight.”
But Heinz got his way without saying a word. For the next thirty minutes, the crowd
noise, activity and music built slowly and reasonably. Then Calvin arrived with two
female assistants, carrying stacks of tabloids, and the place exploded. While he set up
shop at the back table, the editor was swarmed by the usual aspiring journalists, football
fans and assorted malcontentsa cross-section of the city, converging at will. The
increasingly unrecognizable music of Invasion added to the chaos.
As the Free Paper circulated from table to table, Leroy brought copies to Miriam and her
two companions at the head table. Lainie‟s staff nodded approvingly at the cover photo,
in which the Councilwoman posed with quarterback Pete Spencer over the caption,
“Lainie and PeteAspiring First Couple of D. C.” They commented favorably on the
inside spread, which included more photos of Lainie, a flattering biography and a
political statement of purpose.
Calvin had managed to produce a respectable campaign document that took up half of the
ten-page tabloid. The rest of the paper slipped back into his usual attack mode. Miriam
gaped at an expose of Larry Longford by Gloria Stack. No wonder Cass had been
distressed over Ms. Stack‟s research.
Miriam wondered why the reporter had settled for publishing her story in the Free Paper
when she had hoped to get it into the Post. No doubt the freer forum was more conducive
to a hatchet job. Gloria revisited old allegations, such as the one concerning a series of
Texan judges who had thrown out or reduced Longford‟s vehicular assault charges. She
questioned the motivations behind his new job in the Bailey Administration. He would
try to pass himself off as a friend to minorities, but the testimony of several ex-teammates
refuted that. The piece seemed to cast Longford not only as Pete‟s football rival, but as
Lainie‟s political opponent.
Miriam turned back to the beginning of the paper and resolved to read the ten pages
carefully. All those hangers-on surrounding Calvin, clamoring for a few seconds of his
attention, would do well to follow her example. She would weigh his words, read
between the lines and assess his own motives, while they trampled and elbowed each
other to get near him.
She steeled herself against numerous distractions: the couples gyrating almost within
arm‟s reach on the small dance floor; the sweet smell assailing her nostrils; her rising
discomfort about sitting at this prominent spot alone. She assured herself it was just as
well that Jeff had not yet arrived; she needed this time to commune with the spirit of
another man.
When she glanced up, she found Calvin “communing” in his own way. Gloria Stack, his
star writer of the month, had materialized at his side. She smiled like a seductive hostess
and tossed her blonde mane as she handed out papers. Miriam sized them up as a couple,
and shook her head. He seemed to be getting more and more unkempt, while she looked
as if she had stepped out of a fashion magazine. Miriam averted her eyes when they
began groping each other. She returned to her paper and tried to recover her
During a lull in the music, a loud voice reverberated through the club. “What‟s this shit
about paying? I have a special invitation to bring my class here tonight to conduct a very
important civics lesson.”
Pamela Whittle stood at the front door with a crowd of students behind her. The bouncer
looked prepared to stand his ground. Miriam jumped to her feet and hurried to Whittle‟s
aid. “I‟m the one who invited them,” she told the unsmiling guard.
Miriam was sure he would demand to know under what authority she had invited
anybody. But getting the nod from Heinz, he unbent and stepped aside for the professor
and her eight students. “I‟m impressed, dearie,” said Whittle, kissing her on the cheek.
“Looks like you‟ve got some clout around here.”
“It‟s only because I‟m a friend of the management,” explained Miriam, gesturing toward
her privileged spot. She regretted this instantly, for fear that Whittle would try to park her
class at the main table.
Instead the professor bellowed, “Oh, that‟s fine for you. But I‟m gonna take myself and
my charges over to the bar, a perfect observation point. First, though, let me get the lay of
the land.”
She took in the scene, starting with Calvin‟s station at her left. “My, look at the lovebirds,
my former students, handing out propaganda and sucking face at the same time. Who‟d
have thought they‟d find such fertile grounds to spread their manure?” When they came
up for air, Calvin grinned and waved at the professor while Gloria resumed tossing back
her hair.
“Grab me one of those papers, will you, Miriam?” resumed Whittle. “I‟m sure it‟s the
usual Martinez mind-blower. Now that I notice, there‟s plenty of funny stuff circulating
both over and under the tables this evening. Say, Mr. Bouncer, aren‟t you supposed to be
concerned about the under-the-table stuff at least?” The security man jumped as if he‟d
been pinched. He furrowed his brow as he scanned the premises.
“I‟m really glad you camePamela,” said Miriam. “After our talk on Friday, I wasn‟t
sure you would.”
“You think I‟d miss a chance to party and earn my salary at the same time?”
“It‟s just thatyou startled the hell out of me when you suggested I might have a
bang-up story if for some reason you never made it out of Africa. At first I thought you
were making fun of my reporting ambitions, which of course annoyed me. But then I
figured you might be serious. Which is it?”
Whittle threw back her head and guffawed. “I was totally serious. Dearie, I may be a
risk-taker, but I don‟t like leaping into the dark. I‟m trying to figure out why the Bailey
Administration is hell-bent on sending me to Africa. It isn‟t because they think I‟ll look
stunning in kinte cloth. Although frankly, that‟s the real reason I‟m going. As you
probably already guessed, one of my goals is to impress a certain dapper well-digger.”
Miriam still couldn‟t tell if Whittle were serious. “Would you wipe that perplexed look
off your face?” chided the professor. “I came here tonight on a fact-finding mission.
Those conscientious students of mine are gonna penetrate the place as my extra eyes and
ears. We‟re gonna drink in the atmosphere and hopefully clear up lots of mysteries.
You‟re the one who told me this place was a hotbed of liberalism in this town, the
crossroads of some kind of revolution.”
“I don‟t know if I went that far”
“Hold on a second. Maybe the answers are all in this rag.” Whittle opened The Free
Paper and seemed to devour its contents in one bite. “Hell, no, it‟s just the same old
football crap.” She directed her voice to the press table. “Christ, Martinez, aren‟t you ever
gonna grow up? You gonna spend the rest of your stinking life reliving that last missed
“Football is politics,” yelled Calvin, “which in this town is everything. I told ya that
before. Don‟t you listen, you professorial bitch?”
“You listen,” Whittle shouted back. “If all our fates hang on who the starting quarterback
of the Redskins is, I‟ll eat my hat.”
“Bon appetit,” returned Calvin.
“Guess I‟ll hit the bar,” Whittle told Miriam in a more moderate voice. “I presume I‟ll see
you up there?”
“Not yet. I‟m expecting someone to join meat the head table.”
Whittle smiled and wished her luck. Miriam returned to her place to await her escort. The
band resumed its exertions, with Heinz taking charge on the drums. As the beat propelled
the music, Miriam thought, I created this monster. Didn‟t I convince Heinz his place was
up there? I did too good a job.
Miriam felt more attuned to this angry beat than she liked to admit. Still, a jilted man was
more pitiful than a jilted woman. At least in her solitude, she was drawing a few
appreciative glances, although not so much as a wink from Calvin.
Miriam sized up her admirers, mostly gathered at the bar, and shuddered. So why, she
asked herself for the hundredth time, would any reasonably intelligent woman sit around
waiting for a married man, especially one she already had divorced? The answer became
uncomfortably clear: at least he wasn‟t some guy she had picked up at a bar.
She resumed her study of Calvin‟s scandal sheet. The next time she looked up, she was
shocked to see Bob, Jeff‟s closest friend at the Archives, remonstrating with the bouncer
at the front door. Miriam kept her seat, doubtful that she could get another guest in free
and reluctant to hear Bob‟s bad news. Jeff must have sent him to tell her he couldn‟t
make it tonight.
She tried to resume her reading, but couldn‟t block out that agitated look on Bob‟s
usually affable face. She knew he hadn‟t come to give her a lame song and dance, but to
relate something urgent. He slapped the admission price into the bouncer‟s hand and
proceeded toward her despite numerous obstacles. He shouted in her direction, but the
intensifying music swallowed his voice. A flailing dancer elbowed him in the groin, and
he doubled over. Miriam jumped up and rushed to him, although she had guessed his
news. Celia must be on his heels.
“That bitch wife of your ex,” he panted into her ear, “burst into the stacks where Jeff was
slaving on her goddamned project, and announced she had the goods on both him and
you. She said she knew he was planning to meet you here tonight, and if he came, there
was gonna be a bloodbath.”
Miriam heard this news with eerie calm. The threat of violence seemed pervasive tonight.
The triangle between Jeff, his wife and herself was one of several mines set to explode in
this volatile atmosphere. As Bob‟s words sank in, the Invasion guitars subsided while the
beat pounded in her ears.
 “Where are Jeff and Celia right now?” she asked.
“I left them in the stacks, with Jeff doing his best to talk her down. On my way out I told
security there was a crazy former employee in there who might be armed.”
“Armed?” inquired Miriam without much alarm.
“I happen to know how much she loves guns. Her main kicks in life are her firearms and
President Bailey.”
How many potentially violent women, wondered Miriam, love this President? “Let‟s not
go off half-cocked about this. You‟ve got some security in your place, and so do we.
They‟re supposed to protect us, right?”
“Yeah, right.” Bill snorted at the bouncer who looked more round than muscular. “Let‟s
see what they‟re made of.”
“Bob, I know I was stupid to ask Jeff to come here tonight. But he keeps lamenting to me
how he and Celia don‟t get along, that they‟re on the verge of divorce, that she‟s too
absorbed in her White House job to care what he does.”
“I‟d say those things too, if I could keep two women on a string.”
Miriam felt such a surge of anger at Jeff that she relished momentarily his bloody demise
in the stacks. “There‟s no use running from Celia,” she declared. “She keeps popping up
before my eyes in the weirdest placeseven on a football telecast, for God‟s sake.
Besides, I can‟t leave the club now, because all hell‟s about to bust loose.”
“How do you know that?”
“My friend Jocelyn, who‟s running the whole show, is back.” Miriam pointed toward the
front door, where Jo was gesticulating with the bouncer.
“Well, I‟m delighted you and Jeff are finally getting the kicks you never got from your
married life. Just take my advice and duck under the table if you see Celia, okay?”
“I can‟t act like I‟m afraid of her.” Miriam tried to pump herself up with bravado. Heinz
was doing likewise with an intricate drum solo. “I really doubt anything can happen to
me here, once things get rolling. I‟m gonna be surrounded by VIPs who‟ll probably have
their own security. See, here they come now.” Joining Lainie‟s advisers at the table was a
lean, gray-haired man whom she thought she recognized as Pete Spencer‟s agent. He was
accompanied by a grim-faced young man, a possible bodyguard.
“It wouldn‟t look good to turn tail and run,” she told Bob.
“It looks good to me. See ya.”
Miriam thanked Bob and wished him luck. She sat back in her seat with a sense of
well-being that was illusory but strong. As long as she held her position at the center of
action, she would feel secure. She observed Jocelyn slicing through the crowd at Calvin‟s
table. Jo said something to the editor, then repeated the message to several bystanders.
This group of patrons, orchestrated by Calvin and Jocelyn, turned to glare at the stage,
where most of Invasion had subsided during Heinz‟s drum solo. The crowd set up a
rhythm of its own that caught on quickly. Chants of “N, P, J” filled the club. Jo stomped
on the floor in accompaniment, sending Heinz a look that said “get lost.” It appeared Jo
was about to visit on her long-suffering boyfriend a public humiliation that he could
never forgive. What kind of reunion had she achieved with Nick Nichols to justify this?
Invasion dug in against the threat of removal before its allotted time. The musicians
picked up the number they had been attempting before Heinz went on his tear. As the
chant grew louder, the music matched it. Then Jocelyn took the same preemptive action
that had worked so well before. She rushed the stage, grabbing a drink off a table as she
passed. She tossed the contents of the glass at the band in a scattershot attack. Several
patrons followed her example, using their own or borrowed drinks.
The members of Invasion seemed unfazed by the showers of gin, scotch, wine and beer
that rained on them. They played on, as if crowd hostility were their life‟s blood. But
their demise was assured when three young men wearing Nichols, Powers and Judd
T-shirts began carrying their band‟s equipment through the back stage door. The
professional roadies displaced Invasion and its equipment as if the lesser musicians were
children playing with toys. Most of Invasion bowed to the inevitable and left the stage.
Only Heinz remained in place to be removed forcibly. A roadie tossed his drum set off
the stage, followed by the drummer himself. As he went flying, Heinz caught the N, P
and J drum with his foot. He scrambled to his feet offstage, punched the drum with his
fist, and escaped into his office.
The roadies set up their equipment and conducted a sound check, putting the guitar and
electric piano through meticulous scales. Their efforts stretched on, and the crowd voiced
its impatience. The chant of “N, P, J” resumed as a counterpoint to the atonal music. As
the sounds reached a crescendo and chaos reigned, Jocelyn disappeared through the back
stage door. A moment later she reemerged with a grin. She jumped onto the stage and
grabbed the center microphone, giving the roadies a backward stare that caused them to
melt away.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she proclaimed, too loud for the mike, “I give you three guys
who‟re not only great guys but the greatest musicians ever to grace this stage. They‟re
here to help elect the woman who‟s gonna make this city a love fest. Here they are, in all
their gloryNichols, Powers and Judd.”
The three musicians appeared, slightly off-balance after mixing it up with the departing
band backstage. They were hardly “in all their glory” as they took their positions onstage
and plunged into their set. This was their rightful night off, as evidenced by the tattered
T-shirts and jeans they wore, instead of the white suits, ruffled shirts and multi-colored
ties they were known for onstage. Nevertheless, their music filled the cluband Nick,
who had the imposing height and physique of a basketball player, filled the front of the
stage. They opened with the signature piece “It‟s Showtime,” noted for its acrobatic
guitar riffs and responses from the keyboard. They moved on to the hymn-like “Peace
Soldier” with its three-part harmonies.
After the band had delivered its two greatest hits, the crowd roared with delight. The
musicians paused and eyed one another, while Jocelyn, from her perch at the head table,
signaled Nick with an emphatic nod. Nick returned the nod, keeping his brow raised as if
he still weren‟t sure of his bearings. “Thanks, everybody,” he said in his surprisingly
gentle voice. “It‟s great to be back at the Kramerkeller, our original home. In case you‟re
wondering why we came back, it‟s to introduce this next song. It‟s called, „The Ballad of
The piece represented N, P and J‟s first known foray into the rap style indigenous to the
inner city. It started with a series of doggerel rhymes, which might have been made up on
the spot. Then came a chorus of Lainie‟s name repeated in two tones, rising and falling.
Jimmy Judd frowned at his drum and periodically cursed it, but kept up a driving beat.
Miriam surmised that frustrated musician Heinz had made a small breakthrough, although
his assault on the Judd drum didn‟t noticeably hinder „The Ballad of Lainie.‟
The tones of the chorus produced a siren effect. The collective voice of the audience and
band drove the volume and tempo. The sounds intensified until they pushed the
boundaries of human endurance. Everyone around Miriam seemed to be reveling in the
chaos, while she held her head, wondering how much longer she could keep her seat.
She was ready to bolt, when the club exploded in a profusion of white confetti and
balloons. As the debris settled, the wild music subsided into a slow, sweet tune. When
Miriam could see again, she was treated to a sight that made flashbulbs pop on all sides.
The aspiring first couple of D. C., Councilwoman Lainie Palmer and quarterback Pete
Spencer, danced cheek to cheek on the dance floor in front of the stage, a small space that
somehow remained free of confetti. The band segued into a jazzier tune, which inspired
Lainie and Pete to twirl one another like a couple in a dance contest.
Miriam felt proud of Jocelyn, as if she had helped to raise her. Jo was blossoming from a
flower child into a power child as the political miracle unfolded. Her club had achieved a
legitimacy that never seemed possible before. The chaos had been contained; even the
contraband was not in sight. The crowd was appropriately diverse. A band known for its
rowdiness was delivering tunes suitable for an Inaugural Ball. Judging from the rapt faces
all around, as Lainie and Pete caressed one another tastefully, everyone expected to see
this dance repeated a year from now before a citywide audience.
Miriam was beginning to believe that the love fest was real, when a flashbulb exploded
close to her face. She must have gotten in some amateur photographer‟s way. She turned
to apologize, but observed only the receding back of a broad woman with a messy
Celia, thought Miriam, more startled than fearful. If the current wife were gathering
evidence, what good was a picture of Miriam sitting without a companion at the VIP
tableexcept perhaps to prove to Jeff that his ex-wife couldn‟t get a date? Miriam
tracked the woman‟s progress around the room, until she managed to position herself
behind Calvin and began snapping him.
Miriam wrote Celia off as a harmless voyeur, and turned her attention to events onstage.
The “first couple” had concluded their dance with a kiss suitable for a publicity photo.
Then Lainie stepped up to the center microphone, which Nick graciously lowered for her,
while Pete headed for the main table. He grabbed his agent around the shoulders in a
one-armed hug and greeted Lainie‟s advance men with high-fives. He eased himself into
the seat opposite Miriam.
“How‟re you all doing? It‟s a great night, isn‟t it?” His grin flashed around the table.
“It‟s wonderful,” responded Miriam uncertainly. He smiled at her as if he thought she
might be someone. She figured she could identify herself as a volunteer in Lainie‟s
“What‟re you eating? It looks pretty good to a starving guy.”
“Specialty of the house,” said Miriam. “Please, help yourself.” She pushed her plate, with
its pile of potato chips, toward the quarterback. On an impulse she also passed him her
place mat with its special design.
“I was wonderingwould you sign this for me as a souvenir?”
“Glad to,” said Pete as he chewed. He took out a pen as if he were accustomed to signing
whatever came his way. Miriam glowed with pride that she had had the nerve to ask him.
Cass, she thought, you‟re a fool. Pete Spencer is a hundred times nicer than Larry
Longford, who‟s not known for his patience with fans. He may have slept with you once,
but did he show an ounce of sentiment about it?
Miriam had started a trend. Several other patrons approached the quarterback with
souvenir place mats and napkins. He signed them and exchanged friendly words until
Lainie began to speak. Even as she spoke, he went on signing.
“Prepare to be mesmerized,” Pete told his fans, quieting them. He winked at Lainie, who
blew a kiss in his direction.
Miriam reflected before the speech got going that she had no idea what the
Councilwoman stood foronly that Lainie challenged the status quo in her very poses.
She seemed to take in the scene with amusement, tossing back a profusion of dark curls.
Somehow her blue business suit, with its short skirt and white ruffled blouse underneath
the jacket, emphasized her impressive legs and bust. Her mahogany skin glistened in the
stage lights but gave no impression of sweat. Her gaze over the crowd was steady, her
eye contact personal enough to still the rowdies.
“Isn‟t this a great night?” she began. Cheers rang out in confirmation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I see you all staring up here at me, friendly enough, but maybe
just a little aghast at my presumption. Some of you know me pretty well already. I‟ve
been here on many occasions, sipping a little of the house wine and chewing the fat with
you about city issues. I‟ve been able to count on my good friend Calvin Martinez, who
hands out a free scandal sheet every month, to chronicle my career.” All eyes turned to
Calvin, who pumped his fist in the air.
“So I feel like we‟re already friends. But still you‟re asking yourselves, who is this Lainie
Palmer really? What‟s with this African American chick, born with most of the
disadvantages that keep city social services so busy? Maybe she managed to get herself
educated. But politically, so far she‟s only managed to get elected to the City Council
from the poorest ward in D. C. What does she know, besides the few egghead facts
pumped into her head by the London School of Economics and Howard University Law
School? What makes her think she can deal with the big wigs who really control this city
from their safe perches on the Hill? What an absurd, dangerous notion for one of the
city‟s have-nots to harbor. How dare she presume to think she can become your Mayor?”
The crowd roared, signaling the consensus that Lainie‟s exotic good looks and eloquence
should be qualification enough.
“Why should we kid ourselves, folks? We‟ve been led to believe we‟re a bunch of
have-nots, gathered together in a have-not club, fantasizing about things we wish we had,
like real power in this city. Let‟s face it, friends. If this were a real power meeting, it
wouldn‟t be coming down here. If I had even a few backers with deep pockets, they‟d
have thrown me a bash at one of those ritzy places like the Palm Tree.
“Now, there‟s a spot that really sticks in my crawa restaurant so elegant and refined, it
spews venom every afternoon. I guess no one would dare invite me to a power lunch
there, knowing my reputation as a street fighter. I might be tempted to throttle a certain
foul-mouthed cretin who delights in getting in front of his microphone to trash, in a
perfectly reasonable tone, my career and my personal life.” The audience roared
encouragement for her to carry out that threat.
“But let me caution you, friends. I‟m a street fighter who plays within the rules. I can
even be a lady when I choose.” The crowd guffawed.
“The only kind of force I advocate in our fight for power and recognition is the force of
our God-given talents. I intend to hold all of you to that standard. As I look over this
crowd tonight, I sense waves of untapped potential. I know how sick you are of being
underdogsof waiting all your lives to come off the bench and get into the big game.
“You‟ll have to excuse my fondness for football metaphors. It‟s just that I think of my
fiancé, Pete Spencer, as the ultimate triumphant underdog. As we all know, he‟s been
coming off the bench for years, dazzling his fans. But popular support has never been
enough to break through the Texas cabal that controls the Redskins. Pete kept on fighting
with courage and discipline, and now at last his day has come. And that‟s the way we‟re
gonna fight this campaignwith the same kind of courage and discipline, until our day
of triumph arrives.” The crowd roared approval.
“Not that we can trust our opponents to fight as fairly as Pete always has. Historically,
when outsiders prepare to storm the gates, the palace dwellers get desperate. Just recently
we were treated to the spectacle of an aging quarterback, propped up all these years by a
stubborn team owner, getting desperate enough to take a punch at his younger rivalthe
man who would have replaced him long ago, if talent alone were the deciding factor.”
The club erupted in pro-Pete sentiment, so prolonged that Pete himself stood up, took
several bows and quieted the crowd.
“Of course, not everybody‟s fool enough to expose his desperation like that on national
TV. Most of the powers that be are too clever to let us see them sweat. They‟re more
likely to show us a friendly face. They may even lure us into their domain with promises
to let us share the good life. But sooner or later, if we‟re not careful, we may find
ourselves hurdling into some devious trap they‟ve set for us. Does that scenario sound
familiar to any of you?” Her words seemed to resonate with the aggrieved and betrayed
“I‟ll give you exhibit number oneour current Mayor. He‟s a brother from my own
neighborhood, who helped me greatly when I started out in politics. But now he‟s a shell
of a man. He‟s living proof that the trappings of power can be just that—a trap. I‟m not
saying he shouldn‟t be held responsible for his personal and professional failings. But
when a Mayor is virtually powerless from the startwhen someone else holds the
stringsthen that Mayor is a puppet. No wonder he‟s vulnerable to all the temptations
that come with being close to power without really having it. Sad to say, a man who‟s
been debased as both a political and moral leader is no longer of any use to us.
“He‟s plenty useful to the entrenched powers, who would be positively gleeful to see him
reelected. That would prove to the world that we local voters don‟t have sense enough to
make our own judgments. They could go right on using him as an object lesson on what
happens when the poor get presumptuous. They‟re already gloating over that prospect in
the conclaves of Congress. So now I‟m faced with a task both tragic and ironicto try to
defeat a man I once loved like a father.” The crowd sobered up, as if tragic irony were too
tough to swallow.
The lull lasted all of five seconds before Calvin shattered it. “Entrapment,” he yelled.
“That‟s how they got the Mayor. That‟s how they lured me into the White House, then
trashed me. It‟s all a plot to humble us.”
“God, Martinez, again with your own unique paranoia.” Pamela Whittle put her drink
aside and stepped away from the bar. “Sister Lainiecan I call you sister?I‟ll show
you what real paranoia is, if you‟ll permit me. I understand you were once a U.S. Peace
scholar, as I am now.”
“I spent a year after college at the London School of Economics on a Peace grant,”
confirmed Lainie. “I absorbed a few secrets about how our government uses money to
promote what it calls peace. Would you like to share something you‟ve learned?”
Lainie motioned Whittle to join her onstage. The professor tripped on the stage riser, and
made the microphone shriek as she grabbed it. Her face was almost as red as her hair.
Somebody should stop her, thought Miriam, before she blows off her grant.
“Fire away, sister,” smiled Lainie. She accepted a beer from Eric the waiter and sipped
while Whittle talked.
“Okay, picture this. A professor with airtight credentials is denied a U. S. Peace grant to
Florence. She finds out that grant was awarded to another professor with almost identical
credentialsexcept the other applicant happens to be an oil money-drenched governor‟s
babe from, you guessed it, Texas. The first professor, undaunted, finagles an invitation to
a luncheon honoring the successful grantees, where she makes a personal appeal to the
Director of the Peace Council, a man who proves to be out of step with the
Administration. The Director imprudently reveals himself to be more interested in
developing countries than European vacation spots. He and the reject strike up a
“Within a few weeks, the powers that be arrange to cut the Director in on a
money-making scheme cooked up by a couple of European-bound grantees. The
arrangement will provide the Director some seed money to set up his own program, to do
what he most wants to dodig wells in one of the driest spots in Africa. Coincidentally,
the Council powers reverse themselves and accept the former reject for a teaching grant,
as long as she‟s willing to be sent to the same approximate area as the Director, a
less-than-garden spot to be sure.
“None of that fazes our heroine, who loves a challenge. She attends a luncheon honoring
the so-called second cycle grantees where she hears a security lecture from the Deputy
Director of the Peace Council. She takes note of the martial gleam in this woman‟s eyes.
With incredible assurance, the Deputy Director promises the third-world-bound grantees
that the strong arm of the President will protect them. It‟s evident there‟s some weird
secret bond between her and the Presidentnot sex, judging by her looks and age, but
maybe a shared blood lust. Could there be a plot afoot to send Peace grantees to war? Tell
me, is this a trap?”
The crowd, evidently primed by The Free Paper, reviled the Peace Council. “Hell, yes,
it‟s a trap.” “You‟re bait, baby.” “The Covert War Council strikes again.” “Hell, no, don‟t
go.” “They‟re gonna sacrifice a professor over there.”
Whittle listened to these exhortations with a grin. “Thanks for your concern, everybody,
but you‟re too late. I‟m on my way to an outpost of Kenya. Maybe I‟ll try Sierra Leone
after that, who knows? It‟s out of my hands. It‟s fate.” She bowed to the crowd and to
Lainie, then tripped down the riser. She stormed out of the club, her students in tow, as if
she intended to meet her fate that night.
Whittle‟s dramatic exit prompted a standing ovation. Pete Spencer flashed a grin in
Miriam‟s direction as he resumed his seat. “Awesome, wasn‟t she?”
“Sure, if you like women with martyr complexes.”
Miriam was startled by her own remark, but Pete took no notice. His question, Miriam
realized, had been rhetorical. He had embraced the martyr fervor.
“Need I say more?” resumed Lainie, as the uproar subsided. “Does anybody get the
feeling that the U. S. Peace Council is an oxymoron? Did you hear what the lady was
sayingthat there are ways our fearless leaders can benefit from fomenting quick and
dirty wars abroad? The same could be true right here in D. C., in our own neighborhoods.
You think it‟s so farfetched that an Administration bent on destabilizing a continent could
one day bring martial law down upon our heads?”
“You tell it, sister. That‟s why we gotta destroy the Texas cabal before it destroys us.”
The crowd gasped to see Calvin climb atop his table and wave his fists in the air. “We
say we‟re street fighters, so let‟s prove it.”
“Now, brother Calvin, don‟t go stealing my thunder like that. I said I was a street fighter
within the rules. The Administration might want war, but we sure as hell don‟t. We can‟t
possibly win a shootout with them. It‟s our job to assemble peaceably, the way we‟re
doing tonight, and open each other‟s eyes. We will expose the evil and pettiness of our
leaders, then stand aside and let the people act on what they‟ve learned.”
“But what if they won‟t let us assemble peaceably?” shouted Calvin. “I say if they want
war, it‟s our right, our obligation, to give it to them.”
The crowd thrilled to this notion, while Miriam reeled in horror. If this gathering led to
bloodshed, would she be responsible? What had become of the little scandal she had
started with, the funny checks being deposited in an account called “CouncilPac?” Calvin
had told her how trivial that was. Then, behind her back, he had inflated her story line
and connected it to every other fuse simmering in the city.
Someone nudged her arm. She turned to observe a bespectacled, studious-looking man
holding a lit marijuana cigarette out of plain view. “Take a drag and pass it on. Just keep
it under the table, okay?”
He left Miriam with the burning cigarette in her hand. She looked at the possible
recipients within easy reach: the two Palmer campaign officials, the quarterback and his
agent. As she dropped the communal “roach” on the floor and stomped it, she erased
from her mind any notion that this crowd could generate a respectable political
movement. These people could only absorb slogans and oxymorons, like the idea of a
Peace Council waging war. They would shout these things in unison, as long as it didn‟t
interrupt their partying.
“We gotta fight to be taken seriously,” resumed Lainie. “We gotta see through the
friendly phonies. All I really ask of the powers that be is not to insult my intelligence.
“Remember that disgruntled quarterback I mentioned earlier, who capped off his Redskin
career by trying to punch out my fiancé? It seems he‟s embarked on a new career as
White House liaison to some of our local communities. This man who likes to talk with
his fists is gonna try embracing the people I represent. I guess the Administration figures
a few autographs and pats on the back from such a great man will make our kids forget
all the obstacles they face every day.
“See what I mean about insulting our intelligence? Larry Longford is gonna be messing
with my constituents. But I have yet to receive a courtesy call from him, or any kind of
message. Is this an intentional snub, you think? I‟m waiting on tenterhooks for his call.”
The crowd roared. “Don‟t hold your breath, Lainie.” “Someone should teach that bastard
some manners.” “Go punch him out, Pete.”
“All I‟m saying is, let‟s not settle for backup status when we know we can lead. But let‟s
play within the rules, to show them we can. If we do it right, we‟ll not only grab power,
we‟ll hold on to it. We‟ll storm the gates by sheer numbers, and loudness and
obnoxiousness. That‟s a promise. I won‟t settle for living in an occupied territory, and I
won‟t let you settle for it either.”
“To hell with your metaphorical war,” shouted Calvin. “The Texas cabal has occupied
everything that moves or breathes in this townthe White House, the Redskins, even
that godforsaken Peace Council. Should we let it occupy our very souls?”
“Brother Calvin,” intoned Lainie, “it‟s up to you to keep your own soul pure.” Shouts of
“Amen” and “Tell it, Lainie” rang out.
“Listen up, everyone. Your President is a monster. He‟s an octopus with a hundred
tentacles, squeezing the life out of everything he touches.” The Mexican prophet spread
his arms as if to invoke retribution from on high. “Who among us has the guts to cut off
the monster‟s head?”
“That sounds like a call to violence, brother. We‟re not gonna cross that line, no matter
what they do to us.”
“But where‟s the line, sister? You know you‟re flirting with it yourself.” Calvin turned
and glared at a full-figured, frizzy-haired woman who was spooking him from behind
with her flash-bulb camera. The pest was trading elbow jabs with Calvin‟s escort, Gloria
Stack. Miriam realized with a start that she had forgotten Celia for several minutes.
Calvin turned back to face Lainie. “You know as well as I do, we have to watch our
backs every second.”
The candidate grinned, as if Calvin had handed her a slogan. “Just get down from your
perch, Editor Martinez, and elect me Mayor. I‟ll be the one to watch your backs.”

            CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A Wakeup Blow on the Head

Calvin wasn‟t ready to get down from his pulpit, even when Lainie began to take her
bows and bask in a cascade of cheers. He waved his arms and shouted slogans as the
candidate welcomed her fiancé onstage. Nichols, Powers and Judd returned from the
wings, beers in hand, to provide a closing number. The ragged waltz they supplied set the
stage for a free-form dance. Lainie and Pete first whirled about the small space, then gave
up on the erratic rhythm and settled into a slow-dance. The crowd noise subsided to
murmurs of appreciation, and even Calvin finally dismounted.
Jocelyn, armed with her camera, slipped into the seat opposite Miriam that had been
vacated by Pete Spencer. She winked at Miriam as she addressed Lainie‟s handlers. “I kid
you not, I got some great shots, real professional brochure stuff. God, I can‟t believe how
many people around here use flash cubes. That‟s so amateur.”
Miriam feared that Jo‟s professional airs would be shattered when her estranged
boyfriend and boss strode up to the table. Since his tussle with Jimmy Judd, Heinz had
been holed up in the office behind the bar. He now told Jocelyn, in a discreet but steely
voice, “As soon as Nick‟s through playing, just take him into the office, lock the door and
live it up with my blessings.”
Miriam tried to send Heinz an appalled look to reinforce the pep talk she had given him
weeks ago. She couldn‟t believe he had defended his rights onstage, only to surrender his
woman without a fight.
“What a prince you are,” retorted Jocelyn. “I sure as hell don‟t need your permission, but
thanks anyway.”
Miriam glimpsed mayhem in Heinz‟s eyes as he stomped off. Jocelyn, with her lovelorn
gaze now focused on Nick, failed to catch it.
“Jo, be careful. Don‟t do anything foolish.”
“Oh, stuff it, Miriam. You‟re always telling everybody to be careful. When are you gonna
realize nobody ever got anywhere in life by being careful?”
“You shouldn‟t have blown off Heinz like that. He can afford to blow off anybody he
likes because of his rich parents. Have you forgotten they own this club?”
“Oh, my, I‟m so scared of them. You know what? To hell with Heinz and his mommy
and daddy. I‟m about to leave them in the dust.” Jocelyn turned on Miriam, as if she were
another obstacle to fulfillment. “You know, that‟s your whole problemalways thinking,
never doing. If your heart bleeds for Heinz, why don‟t you go comfort him yourself?”
“Don‟t be ridiculous. It‟s you I‟m concerned about, not him.”
“Miriam, let me give you some advice. It‟s high time.” A bearded man nudged Jocelyn
and handed her a lit marijuana cigarette, with the command to “pass it on.” She took a
drag and fixed her gaze on Miriam.
“I‟m gonna tell you something for your own good, as a friend.” She looked for a handoff
at the table, but the associates of Lainie and Pete were busy giving the couple a wrap-up
“Your problem is, you‟re trying to live a risk-free life.” Jocelyn took another drag and
eyed Miriam as if she were askew. “Why else would you cling to your boring
ex-husband, who didn‟t even have the guts to show up here tonight? It‟s such a loser
thing to do. I‟m trying my best to shake you out of it, by putting you in a prime spot
where you can grab any man you like. But I‟m beginning to think you‟re hopeless.”
“Who am I supposed to grab? Pete Spencer?” Miriam motioned toward the power couple,
who had descended from the stage and were making their way toward the exit, propelled
by their assistants. As they departed, the band attempted “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
“Why not? At least you could‟ve flirted. How will you ever know what you can do unless
you try?” Jocelyn handed the cigarette to Miriam. “It‟s not too late yet. Take a little hit
for courage, and go do something daring for a change.”
Miriam sat with the burning object in her hand. She watched the crowd begin to
submerge the couple. Calvin was plowing through the multitude, shouting at obstacles,
reaching toward Lainie as if to grab her arm. Gloria trailed him closely, with Celia
lurking behind her.
“You‟re wrong, Jo. It is too late.” Miriam dropped the second roach on the floor and
obliterated it next to the first. “You blew it. You had respect at your fingertips, and you
just blew it off. Your VIP guests are exiting this dump as fast as they can. They‟ll spend
the rest of the campaign, if there even is a campaign, explaining away this evening.”
“Oh, bullshit. What do you know about street politics? All you know is how to be a
moderate Democrat like your parents. If you ask me, moderation is your life. You‟re
gonna moderate yourself right out of real living. You‟re never gonna go after what you
really want.”
“Fine, Jo. Show me how a girl goes after what she really wants. Show me how a
desperate groupie will risk everything for a quickie with a rock star. You think it isn‟t
obvious you‟re salivating whenever you look at him? I can‟t tell you how transparent you
“You‟re right, I am. You‟ll have to excuse me now. I have work to do.” Jocelyn jumped
up from her seat and moved around the table to position herself in front of the stage, her
camera aimed exclusively at Nick. More effective than this ploy was her skimpy red
dress, which showed off cleavage and an out-of-season tan. Within moments the lead
guitarist was overcome. He aborted the campaign song, laid down his guitar and quit the
stage without a backward glance at his band mates.
Miriam averted her eyes as Jocelyn and Nick retreated into the private quarters. She felt
an urge to leave the club as fast as she could. But this would be problematic since Lainie
and Pete remained stuck in traffic near the front door. She eyed the alternative exit, the
backstage door, but Heinz had stationed himself there as if to direct the departure of
Powers, Judd and their roadies without their leader.
The evening had expended itself, but Miriam had a last inspiration. Perhaps she could
overtake Lainie and offer some good wishes. Better yet, she could inform the candidate
that not everyone who worked at the Peace Council was a warmonger. She abandoned
her seat and wormed her way through the crowd. After ten minutes of purposeful
shoving, she found herself posed to tap Lainie on the shoulder. But there was Calvin, still
shouting in the candidate‟s face, churning the waters.
Calvin detected an irritant at his back. He wheeled around and barked at Gloria: “Here‟s a
story for you. Find out who that frizzy-haired bitch is and why she‟s trailing me.”
Many heads turned to try to discover who he was talking about; there were numerous
disheveled women in the vicinity. Gloria zeroed in on the right one, but failed to catch
her eye. The subject of this inquiry was preoccupied with sending murderous glances
toward another woman, and patting the right side of her shapeless sweatshirt in a
menacing way.
Miriam never had felt so intimidated, or so alive. She would defy these scare tactics, and
in the process unveil her potential as one of Calvin‟s cadre of girl reporters. Had she ever
wanted to be anything else? With her prior knowledge of Celia, she could beat Gloria to
this story. It would mean questioning an armed woman who had it in for her.
She grabbed Calvin‟s shirtfront before he could return his attention to Lainie. She pulled
him toward her and murmured in his ear: “Her name‟s Celia Cooper and she‟s a minor
functionary at the White House.”
“I knew it. Bailey‟s out to get me. Just like that coward bastard to send a woman out on a
search-and-destroy mission.”
“Actually, she‟s not out to get you,” contradicted Miriam. “She‟s out to get me.” But
Calvin had heard what he wanted to hear.
“Things are about to blow. You girls feel free to cover it, but be prepared to duck. If the
bitch crowds me, I‟m gonna throw her down the stairs.”
“Careful, Calvin,” hissed Gloria in his other ear. “I think she‟s carrying a concealed
“Oh, my. Should I be scared?” mocked Calvin.
“Maybe I should be,” protested Miriam in vain, as the story unfolded with uncontrollable
speed. Pete and Lainie were being propelled down the Stairway to Heaven on a wave of
humanity, with Miriam, Calvin, Gloria and Celia in the midst of it. The couple burst out
of the club and paused on the sidewalk as the crowd piled up behind them on the stairs.
After a confused minute, they spotted their limousine parked across the street.
Another screw-up, thought Miriam. Jocelyn should have made sure her guests of honor
could be picked up at the door. She should have called a tow truck for these cars parked
illegally in front of the club. When Miriam realized that Jo‟s own jalopy was the prime
offender, she laughed out loud. All of Jo‟s meticulous plans had been abandoned in the
heat of passion.
It would be inconvenient, if not dangerous, for the Mayoral candidate and her escort to
cross the street. Vehicles were known to speed up and down Eighteenth Street at all
hours, but rarely big, fancy cars. Pete and Lainie plunged across as if they owned the city,
while Miriam wondered why a Mercedes was bearing down on them. She imagined Sally
the Whisperer behind the wheel, taking revenge for this one night when the Kramerkeller
had eclipsed her hubby‟s Palm Tree as the place to be.
If Pete and Lainie were in danger, so was Miriam, with Celia breathing down her neck.
Almost as annoying was Gloria‟s elbow jabbing her in the side, jostling for position near
Calvin. Which threat should she deal with first?
Miriam felt a painful grip on her shoulder, as Celia tried to spin her around. But it was
Gloria‟s push that sent her reeling. As Gloria placed herself where Miriam had been,
Celia‟s fist struck an unintended target on the side of her jaw. Gloria screamed, and
Calvin wheeled around with a combative grin.
“Here you go, bitch.” He grabbed both of Celia‟s arms and pulled her toward him. “Take
a ride.” He tried to find an opening to send her flying, but the crowd surge carried them
both to the bottom of the stairs.
A collective cry of horror rose up. Startled, Calvin released one of Celia‟s arms as the
bulk of the crowd piled onto the sidewalk. Pete and Lainie, sensing danger, had broken
into a run.
With her free hand, Celia reached under her sweatshirt. “Watch out, Calvin,” cried Gloria
and Miriam. “She‟s got a gun.” Their unified warning could not compete with the
screams of a crowd anticipating a car accident. Nor did Calvin seem to hear Celia‟s
muttered threat, “Nobody manhandles me and gets away with it.”
A second before impact, Pete Spencer turned and faced the Mercedes, shielding Lainie.
The vehicle clipped him and sped on. As Pete crumpled on the street, Lainie cradled him
in her arms, screaming for help.
“That was Larry Longford‟s car,” Calvin told his prospective reporters. “But it wasn‟t
him driving, it was some chick.” He regarded Celia‟s twenty-two caliber gun, pointed at
him, with amusement. “Hey, girls, here‟s your story. A female member of Bailey‟s
assault squad.”
“You‟re the one who assaulted me,” shouted Celia. “I want you to apologize, right now.”
That notion made him laugh. The hand holding the gun trembled with rage. As the
convulsion spread through Celia‟s body, the weapon discharged twice.
She dropped it and covered her face. The gun was kicked out of the way as bystanders
struggled to keep both Calvin and Celia on their feet. Calvin, propped up by Gloria,
declared: “You‟re all witnesses. Bailey tried to kill both Spencer and me. A double
“It was an accident,” cried out Celia. “I only meant to scare him. Everybody‟s gotta
believe me.”
“Accident, hell. That‟s what they want it to look like. They” Calvin succumbed to the
shock and pain, and nestled in Gloria‟s arms.
The crowd parted like the Red Sea. One wave flowed into the street and surrounded Pete
and Lainie. A contingent of that group broke away and raced up Eighteenth Street to
catch a glimpse of the Mercedes, which must have stopped or crashed. The rest of the
crowd pressed close to Calvin and Celia. Cell phones popped out everywhere.
Miriam reminded herself that too many cell phones in simultaneous use could jam the
system. She resolved to find a regular phone and call 911. She made her way upstairs and
reentered the club, only to find another war zone. Heavy-booted policemen and women
were pouring through the backstage entrance. They fanned out rapidly, pushing patrons
aside with nightsticks as they overturned tables. Drinks and food went flying.
A pair approached Heinz, who had retreated to his observation point behind the bar. With
a backward jerk of his head, he indicated the closed office door. The two proceeded
through the opening on the left side of the bar. They pounded the door, shouting an order
for the occupants to come out. Barely waiting for a response, they began to break down
the door.
Miriam confronted Heinz at the bar. Her outrage, in contrast to his calm, made the scene
even more unreal. “Can I get you something?” he smiled.
“You‟re the one who called the police?”
“Sure did. Directed them through the backstage door.”
“Do they know there‟re two people dying outside? Is there an ambulance coming? Two
“These are drug police,” said Heinz uncertainly.
“What does that mean? That they‟re blind and deaf to everything else? Are you?” Miriam
reached across the bar, grabbed Heinz by the arms and pulled him toward her. “Don‟t just
stand there like an idiot. Call an ambulance.”
“You know where the phone is.” Heinz shrugged toward the office, which was being
raided. The police had broken the lock as if it were a toy. Jocelyn‟s scream rang out as
the cops confronted her and her lover, no doubt naked and stoned.
“Don‟t you understand?” Miriam released Heinz and grabbed the arm of a woman officer
who was on her way around the bar to assist in the raid. “This is trivial. Those two are
just screw-ups, not criminals. There‟s real murderers on the loose outside.”
The officer warned Miriam that she was impeding police business, but Miriam couldn‟t
stop. “For God‟s sake, lady. Two people are bleeding to death in the street. And they‟re
both celebrities. Maybe that‟ll get you going.”
The policewoman struck Miriam on the head with her baton. I asked for that, thought
Miriam as she let go of the officer and reeled backward. I stood up to authority for the
first time in my life. I was even sarcastic. Unable to stop her backward motion, Miriam
took another blow on the head from the bar. The scene was blotted out.

When Miriam came to, she was lying in a disordered bed, a cold compress on her
forehead. She removed it and hoisted herself up to take in her surroundings, but her head
throbbed. Realization set in slowly. She was in the office that had been raided a short
time ago. She occupied the bed where Jocelyn had tried to conceive the son who would
bind Nick Nichols to her forever. A man was on the phone, relating information in an
excited but meticulous tone.
As some of his facts were askew, Miriam prepared to object. She recognized Louis X.
Bell, the reporter who had collaborated with Jocelyn on the Larry Longford expose in the
September Free Paper. Louis glanced at her, then wrapped up his conversation and
hurried to her bedside.
“You awake now? You‟ve been in and out for awhile. I thought maybe we could talk.”
“I might be sick,” warned Miriam. “My head is killing me.”
“No problem. Just lie back and relax a minute and I‟ll fix you up.” Miriam followed
instructions, and Louis brought her a glass of water and an extra-strength Tylenol he must
have had ready.
“What happened?” asked Miriam, taking in the silence as she sipped her water. “Where is
“It was incredible,” said Louis, “a clean sweep. Everybody you could name either taken
into custody or to the hospital. I just spoke with a source at George Washington
University Hospital. Pete‟s in serious condition, Calvin‟s critical but stable, several
people trampled in the crowd are being X-rayed. That worthless bouncer has a broken
nose. The woman cop who beaned you is the one who got the shooter. A couple of traffic
cops at Dupont Circle got Larry Longford and his driver when she crashed the car. On
top of that, I heard Jocelyn and Nick Nichols were dragged out of here in handcuffs. Did
I forget anything? Oh, the club owner, or manager, or whatever he is, somehow got hold
of the twenty-two on the stairway and tried to shoot himself, but his head waiter stopped
him. They‟ve taken him in for psychiatric evaluation.”
Miriam glanced at her watch. She estimated she had been out less than an hour, time
enough for her world to be swept away. She began to chuckle. “Would you believe my
two best friends are in jail?”
“Really? Who?”
“Jocelyn,” said Miriam, “and Cass, the driver. It had to be her. She told me she almost
took the wheel from Larry the night they met, since he was pretty drunk.”
Miriam‟s shakiness returned, but Louis urged, “Confirm this if you can. The woman with
Longford was a sort of washed-out blonde, on the chunky side, wearing a buttoned-up
one-piece dress that had obviously been shortened. Looked sort of like a secretary trying
to be a cocktail waitress.”
“She‟s a career secretary,” said Miriam. “Maybe that matronly look will catch on, once
everyone knows Cass as the woman who led Longford astray.” Miriam burst out laughing
at her friends‟ predicament. Later, when she was alone, she would weep over the loss of
Jo and Cass.
In the meantime, there were so many discrepancies to clear up. “I don‟t think anyone
realizes what really happened here tonight.”
“What do you say happened?” asked Louis.
“You‟re assuming it was a full-scale government assault. I‟ll bet everybody thinks that.
But there‟s nothing behind it except sex. Nobody will believe a few love-starved women
could cause all this.” Talking seemed to revive the pain in her head.
“Interesting theory,” said Louis, “but why don‟t we put that aside for the moment? Let‟s
talk about your story.”
“My story?”
“The police brutality angle. Several people told me what that woman cop did to you. I
have her name and badge number. She could end up the heroine of the evening, if you let
what she did go unreported. Why don‟t you tell me about it?”
Miriam sat up, but overtaken by weariness, buried her face in her hands. She tried to
return to a reclining position, but Louis caught her by the arms and propped her up.
“This needs to be told. It could turn out to be the most significant part of the whole story.
From what I heard, all you were doing was reporting the incidents you witnessed, and the
officer reacted violently to a casual touch.”
“I guess she thought I assaulted her,” admitted Miriam, “but I didn‟t mean to. I was just
overexcited like everybody else. I wanted to direct her toward the real crimeor crimes.”
“It‟s one of the most outrageous incidents of police misconduct I‟ve every come across.
And you could have been seriously injured. In fact, maybe you were. You sure went out
like a light.”
“I had some of that dark beer tonight,” said Miriam, “not to mention all the funny stuff I
breathed in. I was a little woozy even before it happened.”
“Maybe so. Then again, maybe you have a concussion. Listen, why don‟t I drive you to
G. W. U. Hospital. They‟ll check you out, and have you file a report.”
“Good God,” muttered Miriam, “why me? I wanted to write this story, not be part of it.”
But Louis persuaded her to go to the hospital where both Calvin and Pete had been taken.
When she thought about it, the hospital seemed the place to be.

Several weeks passed in emptiness and frustration. Despite her best efforts to benefit
from the events of November 21, Miriam felt shorn of everythingfriends, lover, even
her shot at fame. By mid-December, when Mrs. Broadwater summoned her to a meeting
to discuss her future, she was feeling low. She doubted that any job prospect at the
Council could lift her spirits.
She had been sent home from the hospital that night with a prescription for painkillers
and a vague promise from the police to investigate her complaint. Louis, who had driven
her home, promised to pursue the story aggressively. Miriam had called in sick for the
rest of the week and spent the time recuperating at her parents‟ house, although her
headache subsided after two days.
She had received a long-distance phone call from Jeff, who must have lit out for his
southern Virginia retreat minutes after he had sent Bob to the club to warn her about
Celia. Jeff seemed concerned about her health, but equally concerned, Miriam couldn‟t
help noticing, for his own. He gave several muddled reasons for his unscheduled sojourn
in the country. She deduced that he was organizing the paperwork for the cache of
weapons he and Celia owned, in case the police got wind of it. She also guessed he
wanted a few of his favorite weapons close at hand against the day that Celia was
released on her own recognizance. She detected fear in his voice, mixed with admiration,
when he spoke of Celia. It was too bad, he implied, that her “accident” that night hadn‟t
eliminated the menace of Calvin Martinez. Miriam began to suspect that when in Rome
he embraced the politics of militia-minded southern Virginia.
Miriam received a charming get-well card from Bob, and a businesslike one from Louis.
No one else outside the family acknowledged her share of the pain and suffering. She
awaited word from her two best friends, but none came. Cass and Jocelyn had caught the
worst of the fallout from that night, and were embroiled in their own battlesCass
accused of vehicular assault, and Jo facing drug charges.
The following week, Miriam resumed her daily routine with difficulty after being
indulged at home. Mrs. Broadwater seemed to know everything that had happened but
did not spare her on that account. The workload increased, as Miriam found herself filling
in for two absentees. Sally the Whisperer had gone on leave without pay, amid rumors
she was pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Ginny the Giggler was on leave to prepare for
her wedding to Gary.
Miriam continued to seize every opportunity to exert her writing skills. Only intense
mental activity, at work and at home, filled the void in her life. The correspondence she
drafted grew in complexity and importance, while the style, at Mrs. B‟s insistence,
became increasingly stiff and formal. Even the woman‟s personal acquaintances in
Congress were addressed without a trace of warmth. Miriam‟s masterpiece was the draft
of a long letter to the President, a “State of the Council report” that also advanced the
Deputy Director‟s qualifications to be named permanent Director. Miriam strove for a
few personal touches, but Mrs. B struck out all attempts along those lines.
Miriam threw off such restrictions when she sat before her own computer in the evenings.
She poured her heart into the article she was writing for Calvin, a moving piece with
three story lines woven into one, describing the perils of frustrated love and the ways that
personal trials could affect public events. When she reread it, her heart sank at the
thought of showing it to Calvin, but she resolved to do it.
She talked her way past the nurses at G. W. U. Hospital, as others were doing. Three
weeks after his near-death experience, Calvin was holding court, milking his injuries and
auditioning reporters, mostly women, to tell his story. Miriam had expected to see the
gaunt man with sunken cheeks that had been described in the Post a few days after the
shooting. The man she saw aroused her more than he had in full health. He was regaining
muscle and flesh even as his voice returned.
Gloria Stack appeared to have the inside track. She sat at his bedside, sometimes stroking
his hand, while other reporters made their cases. Miriam tried to remain stoic as he
belittled her ideas.
“Sounds like you‟ve made this story all about you, love. It‟s your autobiography.”
“It‟s supposed to be your autobiography?” retorted Miriam.
“Don‟t you get it, bubblehead? The government goons only meant to disable Pete, but
they wanted to kill me. They‟ll blow my head off next time.”
“Has it ever occurred to you,” ventured Miriam, “that there are such things as accidents
and coincidences?”
“How can you be so naive and still live?” exclaimed Calvin. A chorus of girl reporters
seconded this. “Listen, love, the powers that be can make anything look like an
accidenta brush war in Africa, a car crash, a shooting in the street. If you can‟t cut
through government lies and smokescreens, you‟re no use to me. My mission is to scream
out the truth through a bullhorn.”
Miriam asserted what she felt was common sense, although unsure who was right. She
sensed Calvin‟s reluctance to pursue Louis Bell‟s side story about her, the police
misconduct angle, unless it proved to be part of the same pre-planned government assault
that had felled him and Pete. Calvin‟s anger mounted as Miriam watched. He complained
that the mainstream media had ignored his fight for life in favor of Pete Spencer‟s
physical therapy. “I guess a near-fatal shooting can‟t compete with two broken legs, if
they‟re the legs of a Redskin star.” That was the news football fans demanded. Their
once-promising season, now in the hands of a rookie third-string quarterback, had gone in
the tank. Any word of Pete‟s progress at least fueled their hopes for next season.
Calvin went on to excoriate the legal system that he said would find a way to let his
assailant walk free. Celia‟s defense was that she had feared for her life in a “beer hall
Putsch” atmosphere, and that the gun she carried for self-defense was legally registered in
Virginia. Calvin declared further that Cass would take the fall for Presidential intimate
Larry Longford. No doubt he had egged her on when she was behind the wheel, having
gotten her in his thrall. Cass would be the one held up to public scorn as the reckless
woman who had shattered the city‟s football dreams.
When Mrs. B and Miriam sat down for their planned conference, Miriam‟s state of mind
was that of a frustrated journalist. She still cherished a dim hope that someone would
publish her article. Some day the mainstream press would make a serious effort to
confirm or deny Calvin‟s rants. Miriam persisted in thinking she could utilize her contact
at the Post. The thought recoiled on her, as she remembered how Cass had blown it. She
couldn‟t believe her two best friends had vanished in the back draft of events.
Mrs. B regarded her with the usual all-knowing smile. How did this woman comprehend
so much? She must read The Free Paper web page, which kept churning those waters
that had Miriam tossing and turning every night. Seated opposite her boss, Miriam
glanced toward the king-sized computer on the right, but all she saw was a screen saver
that resembled a stone wall.
“I know this has been a turbulent time for you personally, Miriam,” began the Deputy
Director. “There‟s been a fair amount of turmoil here at the Council as well. The
Director‟s imminent departure has certainly altered my responsibilities. And the other
recent absences have increased your workload.”
“Well, that‟s life,” offered Miriam. “Young women get married and have babies.” She
spoke with more cynicism than envy. If she and Ginny were closer, she would advise her
not to marry “Gay” Gary, who surely would break her heart.
“While we‟re on that subject, do you have any plans along those lines?”
“Oh, no, I‟ve got no prospects right now.” Miriam tried to laugh this off, as if to suggest
an excess of modesty, but the prospects she did have were no laughing matter. Jeff had
proven to be a coward, and Calvin a paranoiac nut. She had developed some warm
feelings for Bob, but so far he had expressed only brotherly concern for her. And Louis
persisted in treating her like an interview subject.
Worse, there was no Kramerkeller where she could go to vent her frustrations. Heinz‟s
parents had closed the club, with the rumored intention of renovating it and reopening in
six months. No doubt by then Heinz would be through with his psychological counseling
and ready to manage a more upscale place. That meant Jocelyn would be out on the street
when she was released from jail, unless her own parents took her in. Incredibly, Nick
Nichols and his band had gone on with their tour as if nothing had happened. The police
had believed Nick‟s protestations that he knew nothing about drugs at the club, beyond
taking a few drags of what was offered him.
“I should tell you, Miriam,” said Mrs. B, “that there‟s more to the absences of Sally and
Ginny than meets the eye.”
“Oh?” Miriam doubted that there could be more to the Whisperer and Giggler than their
nicknames implied.
“Ginny and Gary, once they‟re married, plan to leave the Council to join Daniel
Wrightman‟s new Africa-based organization. And Sally is on leave by mutual
consenthers and minebecause a recent information leak, very embarrassing to the
Council, was traced to her.”
This was staggering news. Miriam had to take several moments to readjust her focus. Her
misgivings about Ginny and Gary turned to admiration, while her grudge against Sally
became tinged with guilt.
She could not let this pass, knowing she was as guilty as Sally of leaking Council
business. She was the one who had formulated bloody theories on paper and talked them
up on the phone and in public. She was amazed at Sally‟s insight, as well as her
deviousness. Sally must have ferreted out parts of the story, e-mailed items to The Free
Paper while covering Miriam‟s desk, and even had the gall to accuse Miriam of being the
snitch. No doubt Mrs. B understood the relative guilt of both women, but in her scheme
of morality, she had excused Miriam and indicted Sally. Or perhaps she valued Miriam‟s
writing skills over Sally‟s weasel skills.
“Mrs. Broadwater, if I‟m in any way responsible for getting Sally fired”
“Rest assured about that. Sally wasn‟t fired, although she did receive a reprimand
because of the potential harm she did to the Council‟s reputation. It was her choice to go
on leave without pay. She wants the time off, and she and her husband can afford it.”
Mrs. B regarded Miriam with a newfound respect that was gratifying but also perplexing.
How had Miriam found her way to the woman‟s heart? She had been adventurous enough
to risk her career and honest enough to take responsibility for her actions. “It‟s your
future I‟d like to discuss,” continued Mrs. B. “The truth is, there may not be much of a
future here at the Council.”
“You mean for me?” asked Miriam.
“I mean for anybody with ambition. Including me.” The Deputy Director and the
secretary exchanged potent glances.
“The Council is at a crossroads. I wish I knew exactly how and when this agency became
a punching bag for the liberal media. It‟s true that our unique mission makes us
vulnerable to rumors and innuendos. But I can tell you the President is deeply concerned
that our mission is being undermined. These implications that Peace Officers are sent
abroad for purposes other than educational ones are poisoning the public mind against us.
That is simply unacceptable.” She waited for Miriam to nod in agreement.
“Now the problem is being compounded on the local level. A Mayoral candidate, an
ex-Peace grantee, in fact, is campaigning on the premise that this evil Administration has
parallel aimshavoc abroad and at home, with the goal of crushing the powerless
wherever we find them and stealing their resources. It seems possible she could win the
election by portraying herself as the city‟s martyr in this anti-Bailey hysteria.
“And on a personal note, I was appalled that my own former secretary, a young woman I
always believed to be trustworthy and conscientious, became embroiled in a near-riot.”
“I‟m upset about Cass too,” faltered Miriam, “but sometimes we do strange things for
love.” Could she sound any more juvenile if she tried? To her amazement, her boss
nodded in agreement.
“None of us are immune to that, Miriam. It‟s a matter of making sure the men we love,
and our friends too, are worthy of our trust.”
Mrs. B proceeded to describe the man she would follow to the death if given the
opportunity. “Rest assured, the President will take swift and decisive action to restore
order wherever it‟s threatened, while seeking avenues of reconciliation with his critics.
He plans to supervise the Peace program directly, at least throughout the current cycle, to
make sure his policies are implemented without incident.”
Miriam resolved to contact Pamela Whittle one last time before she left for
Africaalthough wishing her luck, when the Peace scholar needed to believe she was
heading into danger, might fall flat.
“Regarding the local situation, of course the President can‟t intervene directly in a
Mayoral election. But he does intend to maintain a strong liaison to the community.”
“You mean Larry Longford?” gasped Miriam. “After what happened?”
“No one representing the President can be held responsible for that accident.”
That was Longford‟s spin on the evening. He had portrayed himself as a prince among
athletes, just being kind to a besotted fan who craved the privilege of driving him. Didn‟t
have a clue what she was planning to do, or even that Pete Spencer was in the vicinity
that night.
“Mr. Longford will continue in the role the President has envisioned for him. You can
rest assured that one major initiative will be to meet with the Mayoral candidate and her
fiancé to resolve any misunderstandings.”
“Is it possible the President envisions Larry Longford running for Mayor himself as the
Republican candidate?” asked Miriam.
“The local election doesn‟t concern us now.” Mrs. B squelched Miriam‟s slight irony
with a lift of her brow. Miriam warned herself, don‟t blow this. She may be leading up to
a great offer, the best you‟ll ever have.
“We have a more important issue at hand, Miriam. As I said, the President will oversee
foreign grants from the White House for the foreseeable future. He has asked me to move
over there and take charge of this effort. I‟ll be making sure the program reflects
Administration policythat the „peace‟ in Peace Council remains the primary objective.
After a year or so, he‟ll ask me to recommend whether the Council should be
reorganized, abolished, or continue in its present form.”
She‟ll hold all the cards, thought Miriam. She‟s telling me this place is kaput, which
leaves me no choice but to follow wherever she leads.
“Let‟s focus on your qualifications, Miriam.” Mrs. B fixed her secretary with a gaze. “I‟d
like you to consider the benefits you‟d derive from working at the White House as my
assistant. The duties of the position are not yet defined, but it‟s certain to open a world of
possibilities. Don‟t dismiss such an opportunity out of hand because you disagree with
the President on some issues.”
“I wouldn‟t do that,” Miriam hastened to assure her.
“I‟m aware of your aspirations to be an investigative journalist,” chuckled Mrs. B. “You
already know more about the Council‟s inner workings than you rightfully should. That
kind of intellectual curiosity is somewhat out of place in a secretary. But I was impressed
by some of the insights you displayed in the letter you drafted for the Presidentand he
was impressed, too.”
How many secretaries could claim that the President had noticed their work? She felt
ready to chuck aside any political differences and follow Mr. Bailey to the death.
“If your writing skills are channeled in the right direction, Miriam, you could go far. On
the other hand, if they‟re misused, you could bring ridicule upon yourself. The
underground press is not a suitable venue for an aspiring writer to gain respect. You‟ll
have a hard time convincing intelligent readers that a series of coincidences at an
Eighteenth Street bar constitutes a government-wide conspiracy.”
She may be right, mused Miriam. Still, a conspiracy theory is more intriguing than a
series of coincidences. And this theory is still raging.
“I‟m glad that so far you‟ve avoided immersing yourself in the controversy.”
“I‟m not about to do that,” reassured Miriam. The last time she had spoken to Louis, he
was leaning toward dropping her as a subject and pursuing the Redskins‟ third string
quarterback, whose struggles had earned him sympathy if not success.
Mrs. B sat back in her chair and contemplated her secretary. “So, Miriam, why don‟t you
tell me your thoughts?”
Miriam‟s first thought was that the job would be dangerous for her, should Celia find her
way back to the White House. Dismissing this possibility as farfetched, she contemplated
her chances of meeting Larry Longford. Would Cass be jealous? Miriam would turn any
such acquaintance to her friend‟s benefit, insisting that Larry help Cass with her legal
troubles, or at least put in a good word for her.
“Mrs. Broadwater, it‟s a fantastic opportunity. I can‟t think of turning it down.”
The Deputy Director held up a hand. “You need to consider it carefully, Miriam. This
position would require a level of commitment and loyalty that has never been asked of
you before. Frankly, it would be your job to serve my interestsand not by accident this
time. Your free-lance career would have to be put on hold.”
“I understand.” Miriam curbed her reaction. “May I ask if there are other candidates for
this position?”
“I‟ve thought about going in a different direction. My contacts have urged me to choose a
senior-level person with extensive political or business experiencemaybe one of our
current grantees, such as Mr. Randolph or Mr. Weston. But I‟ve decided I prefer a young,
promising person who can grow and develop on the job.”
“I see,” said Miriam. I see she wants to mold me in her own image. One day I‟ll be a
miniature Elaine Broadwater, tough as nails and more inclined toward self-interest than
idealism. But that‟s not totally fair. I‟ve influenced her too. Why else hasn‟t she grabbed
at the obvious benefits of hiring Randolph or Weston, who could help her burrow into
third world countries in a profitable way? Why is she so willing to put up with my doubts
and naiveties?
“One thing troubles me, Mrs. Broadwater.” Honesty seemed the best policy. “It‟s that
letter to the President I drafted for you. I came up with the line about putting the „peace‟
back in the Peace Council. That‟s the worthiest goal I can think ofif the Administration
shares it.”
“Why wouldn‟t the Administration share it, Miriam? Maybe you prefer believing all
these ravings about a Covert War Council?”
“Oh, no.” Miriam strove for a reasonable tone. “I‟m sure the President is sincere when he
says he wants the current cycle to go smoothly. But there are other, more
subtlesymptoms that only a real journalist could uncover.”
“Symptoms of what, exactly? You believe if you were a so-called real journalist, you
could catch some of us with our hands in the till?”
“Oh, no. Not you personally.” She almost had said as much, but managed to hold her
tongue just in time. She redoubled her effort not to blow it, although wracked by doubts.
If she were honest, she would admit her reservations were more personal than political.
Her parents had tempted her to move back home temporarily, just long enough to “get her
life in order.” She balked at the idea, but it was the only way she could afford to take a
full-time graduate program in journalism, the kind of course that would push her out onto
the city streets and into the halls of the bureaucracy.
“What attracts you so much about the scandal-mongering news media?” prodded Mrs. B.
“I believe you may be confusing career aspirations with an adolescent need for
“Honestly,” said Miriam, “I‟m still haunted by that journalist grantee who was killed in
Columbia two years ago. I can‟t deny that kind of thing excites me. Ever since I
witnessed a riot myself, I‟ve been wondering: do I have what it takes to plunge into
danger every day, like that guy did? Even covering someone like Lainie Palmer, right
here in D. C., seemsa little hazardous.”
“If you were my daughter” Mrs. B paused and sighed, as if to suppress an inconvenient
memory. Miriam feared she had exasperated the woman beyond recall. She watched her
boss‟s expression shift through a range of emotions, as the job offer hung in the balance.
To Miriam‟s relief, Mrs. B permitted herself to smile at such youthful exuberance. “I‟d
advise you to take a job that offers prestige and securityas much security as can be
expected in the political arena. In case you‟re hedging your bets, I can almost guarantee
that President Bailey will be reelected next year. I don‟t see any worthy opponents on the
horizon. And I seriously doubt that Lainie Palmer‟s coattails will stretch far enough to
trip up the President.”
Miriam noted the assurance in her boss‟s voice, while visions of Watergate and other
impeachable scandals flashed through her head. Reelection might be certain, but job
security was not.
“Believe it or not, Miriam,” continued Mrs. B in a maternal tone, “I once found myself at
a crossroads similar to what you‟re facing. But growing up is about compromise. Not
many people reach my level of experience without making a few concessions to the real
world. We rarely follow an unimpeded path to where we want to be.”
The wizened woman sat up in her high-backed chair and stuck out her chin as if to
demonstrate that her intended destination was in sight at last. What a shame, thought
Miriam, that Mrs. B had missed out on the “unimpeded path” and all the benefits she
would have enjoyed as Mrs. Bailey.
“Journalists have it fairly easy, in my opinion. Their job is to expose the inconsistencies
between ideal states of government and realities of governmentour compromises.
While we struggle with those imperfections, they stand on the sidelines, critiquing our
failures and jeering.
“I do understand, Miriam, your reluctance to compromise. But let‟s put this proposed job
in perspective. You would begin work in the Bailey White House at a time when the
Administration is gearing up for reelection. You would not be making public policy. You
would be doing your part to keep executive functions operating smoothly while most of
the political energy is focused elsewhere. You and I would join a legion of humble cogs
whose job is to maintain the legacy that Mr. Bailey will stand on during the campaign
and afterward.”
And what a legacy, thought Miriam. Just look at what‟s been going on lately. Practically
everyone I care about is bloodied, bruised, locked up or running scared. All the local
institutions that sustained methe Council, the Kramerkeller, the Redskinsare
tottering or fallen. And she‟s asking me to participate in diverting the blame. But what an
experience it would be.
“Our goals, as in every Administration, are peace abroad and prosperity at home,”
continued Mrs. B. “Reasonable people can disagree on tactics. In some cases we might
argue whether a strong arm or gentle persuasion is more appropriate. Or we might dispute
whether the unintended side effects of certain policiesthe costs of doing businessare
reasonable or not.”
“You mean, for example,” pursued Miriam, “that an occasional casualty among Peace
scholars might be considered a cost of doing the Council‟s business?”
“That‟s one way of putting it.” Mrs. B smiled, as if her slow student had grasped a lesson.
“No one wants such tragedies to happen. But public servants must be willing to accept
“I‟m willing to accept it,” said Miriam, “but not to cover it up. I know of at least one
current Peace grantee who seems convinced she‟s headed into danger in Africa. If she
turns out to be rightif she meets with some disasterI‟ll want to tell her story.”
“If that happens, Miriam, I‟ll make it easy for you. I‟ll appoint you to a task force
charged with investigating the incident and writing a report.”
Might she be sent to Africa on that mission? Miriam marveled at Mrs. B‟s power to open
vistas for her. Of course, her boss would control the results of any official probe. But if
the opportunity arose, Miriam would write a hard-hitting report. And if it ended up
suppressed, it could always be leaked.
Mrs. B had forced her to consider the pitfalls, and also the irresistibility of a White House
job. “You will profit and learn,” she challenged further, her smile growing. “I‟m offering
the benefits of my experience in return for your loyalty.”
How could Miriam refuse? “Mrs. Broadwater, I accept your offer with gratitude.”
Plans formed in her head. I can easily postpone graduate school for a year. Only a year?
What am I thinking? That President Bailey might be defeated? Every poll makes him a
prohibitive favorite over any possible challenger.
Still, she couldn‟t resist this feeling. Whenever she relived that last night at the club, she
sensed the Bailey Administration was in trouble. A youth movement had been sparked by
an unconventional Mayoral candidate and a firebrand editor. If it had demolished the
Kramerkeller in one evening, what might it do to the establishment?
“You‟ve come a long way in a very short time, Miriam. Just last summer, I couldn‟t have
envisioned offering you a position like this. As you no doubt recall, you weren‟t selected
for the Program Assistant post that was open then. Quite honestly, I even had some
reservations when I chose you to be my secretary. But in the last three months you‟ve
proven yourself willing to take on new responsibilities and work hard. More importantly,
you‟re still here, while others have fallen by the wayside.”
“I appreciate your confidence in me.”
“Not that you don‟t still have a lot to learn.” A slyness crept into Mrs. B‟s smile. “But
I‟m confident that you‟ll grow into your new post, as you have here at the Council.”
“I‟ll work hard to make that happen.” But Miriam‟s musings were not about work. Do I
want to grow up completely, just yet? Right now I‟m on tenterhooks to say and do all the
right things, but I‟m not sixty years old. I haven‟t given up on the man of my dreams.
When the women stood up to shake hands, they looked each other in the eye like equals.
Miriam continued to exude enthusiasm, while her thoughts betrayed her. It‟ll only be a
year. I‟ll absorb as much of your know-how as I can, gratefully. Maybe I‟ll even aspire to
your job. What‟s wrong with changing the system from within?
But something tells me I‟ll keep on secreting copies of The Free Paper in my desk. I
know Cass and Jo won‟t bounce back from their legal troubles and resume being my
bosom buddies any time soon. And I know I‟ll be giving Jeff the boot, since he and Celia
deserve each other. In that vacuum, Calvin will rise again and lead me astray. One day,
Mrs. B, you and I might face each other over a barricade.

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