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I love this scene in THE CANDIDATE because it's a perfect example of yet another politician has been caught behaving badly, and instead of blaming himself, he lashes out at those who do their best to protect him — in this case, the book's hero, Ben Brinker, who is his campaign advisor.
A perfect illustration that scandals, such the Anthony Weiner texting scandal in the New York City mayoral race, aren't so much stranger than fiction.
“You sure are one stupid sonofabitch!”
Congressman Calder’s rant, roaring out of Ben’s iPhone, could be heard by each
and every wayward traveler in the Manchester Airport lounge, including the
bartender who was trying hard not to smirk as he slid Ben’s double Glenlivet,
neat, in front of him. “Damn it, Brinker, you told me you had that bitch under
a splitting headache, Ben cradled his cell as close as he could to his head,
then grabbed his glass as if it were a lifeline and took a swig. If he thought
the scotch’s numbing burn would muffle Dick Calder’s profanity-laced bellowing,
he was sorely mistaken. Worse yet, while Calder was screaming into one ear,
Chris Matthews was barking his own ruminations about “the politician and his
baby mama” on the lounge’s TV set. His guest pundits—Paul Begala, Bay Buchanan,
and Arianna Huffington, each wedged into a thin slice of the split screen—were
spinning their own theories on the first scandal of the election season.
down, Dick! I did take care of her. I always do, don’t I?” Ben ran his fingers
through his hair. Three strands—all white—dropped on the bar beside his napkin.
After today he wouldn’t be shocked to find that they’d all turned white—or that
they’d all fallen out. “I just talked to her yesterday in fact, and—Oh…wait!…Shit!”
look: Last night I didn’t have time to swing by there before my flight
with—well, you know, her little stipend. I called instead, and told her I’d
drop over tonight.”
all honesty, seeing Jenna never made Ben happy. He’d met her a decade ago, when
she was one of the many fresh-faced bright young things on the Hill. Having
just been hired on as a Staff Ass to her home state senator, she was a
small-town girl with a sunny smile and great legs: something admired by Calder,
among others—including Ben. And with so much going for her, Jenna wasn’t
exactly a saint. Then again, she wasn’t a Washingtonienne,
either. She truly believed Calder’s bullshit when he told her he’d leave his
wife for her.
least, those first three or four years they were together.
to say, when Jenna broke the news to him that she was pregnant, of course he
hit the roof. Still, Jenna did her part. She left the Hill before her pregnancy
could be discerned under her fitted suits.
discretion was part of her charm for Calder, whose wife gave him a wide berth
but had made it ominously clear that the gates of hell would open up under him
should any scandal threaten her hard-earned standing in Washington society.
the executor of little Cole’s trust, of course Ben knew otherwise.
though, Jenna had been fretting over what Calder’s presidential aspirations
would mean to her and Cole. She was no fool. Under normal circumstances she saw
him, what, twice in a month? If Calder were to get the Democratic nomination,
odds were he’d drop her like the hot political potato she was.
when he does, who’s going to hire me? No one!” she’d fretted to Ben last night
on the phone. “Not that Cole’s illness isn’t a full-time job. But without
employment, I’ve got no health insurance. Ben, these medical bills are eating
me alive, and that cheap son of a bitch Calder begrudges me every dime. I’m not
living high on the hog here. I mean for God’s sake, Cole is his son, too!”
wonder Jenna had sounded so anxious on the phone last night. Besides whatever
the Enquirer was paying, apparently
she’d hoped to get her cash before the Couric interview aired.
Calder turned icy cold. “Let me get this right,
Brinker: In other words, you blew her
not exactly. I mean—”
it, Kiss Ass. For once, you may have done me a favor. At least I saved a few
thousand there.” Calder’s cruel chortle sent chills up Ben’s spine. “It’ll be a
cold day in hell when that cunt sees another buck from me. Her little gravy
train is over. And so is yours, Brinker. It was your incompetence that lost me
was all Ben could do not to shout back into the phone, You did this to yourself, shithead. If you’d loosened your wallet, she
would have kept quiet forever.
he took a deep breath. “Can I help it that the Enquirer made her a better offer?”
retort was met with silence. Then Calder hissed: “That’s my point, you fucking
moron. You should have come up with a more permanent
solution. Like offing the bitch.”
What the hell?
okay. Lying to the media, to donors, even to his candidates’ wives was one
thing. And these days a payoff (to a dirty cop who could be convinced to “lose”
an arrest warrant, or a blackmailer, let alone a loudmouth mistress) was just
business as usual. But arranging a hit?
even I won’t sink that low, thought
knew the bartender had overheard Calder’s taunt, too, because the stocky
Irishman stopped polishing the counter mid-wipe and scrutinized him through
hooded eyes. Ben pretended not to notice, but a moist trickle of shame inched
its way down his back.
turned his head in the hope of deflecting the man’s stare. Then with as much
dignity as he could muster, he muttered, “Seriously, Congressman, what do you
take me for, some sort of thug?”
cackled so hard that Ben had to hold the iPhone away from his ear. “A ‘thug’?
Frankly, that would be a step up for you, Brinker. Hell, a cockroach would be a
promotion. For Christ sake, you’re just a fucking political consultant. Or have you forgotten that?”
cell hadn’t chirped as the line went dead, Ben would have faked some sort of
face-saving kiss-off for the benefit of the bartender and anyone else who was
still listening, but why bother? Everyone was watching the television, anyway.
eyes gravitated there too when he realized what they were staring at: his
photo, which had suddenly appeared on the television screen as Matthews spit
out his name:
it just me, or has there been an epidemic of political scandals lately? Seems
like the only thing they have in common is the same political consultant: Ben
Brinker. Remember the congressman from Utah who was caught last month
soliciting teenage girls over the Internet?”
screen cut back to the pundits. “Well, yeah, that was Ben’s candidate, too.”
Begala’s nod was accompanied with a grimace. “But hey, Chris, we political
consultants don’t carry crystal balls. And the ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’
types are few and far between—”
remember correctly, Brinker also handled that governor who recently got
indicted in a construction kickback scandal.” Bay shook her head in disgust.
“And didn’t he work on the campaign of that senator whose diplomatic
aspirations went up in smoke faster than you could say ‘back taxes’?
Whitewashing the depraved makes you just as culpable, in my book.”
“Granted, there are some pathetic losers up
on the Hill, but there are also some really great statesmen—and stateswomen.” Chris was just warming
up. “They just don’t hire creeps like Brinker.”
line is that Brinker’s the best at putting lipstick on pigs and running them
for office.” Arianna’s icy chuckle pierced right through Ben. “But seriously,
how many political consultants can survive in D.C. with those kind of
‘see-no-evil, hear-no-evil’ antics? It may work if you’re a candidate’s wife,
but not a campaign strategist who wants to stay on K Street.”
Damn, that’s harsh, hon. Well then hell, don’t
count on me blogging anytime on HuffPo…Yeah, okay, so it’s a long shot that,
after this Calder crap, you’ll ever ask me again.
something else is going on here!” Matthews was on a roll. “Maybe some lousy
karma. ‘Bad Luck Brinker’ is some sort of political cooler who jinxes his
set off a cacophony of supposition, innuendo and balls-to-the-wall blarney from
his guests. Above it all Matthews roared his patented, “Tell me something I don’t know! Be right back–”
eyes in the bar turned to Ben.
with the realization that his income stream had just dried up—worse yet, that
he wouldn’t be able to replace it because he’d never live down this latest
humiliation—the Tilt’n Diner’s signature whoopee cake pie crawled back up Ben’s
throat, along with his Glenlivet neat.
hard, he tossed a ten on the bar and, with what dignity he could muster, walked
to the men’s room.
inside, he kicked open an empty stall, and promptly threw up.
(c) 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.