Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A White House Farewell by William de Rham

Alex Taylor, a libidinous White House insider, plays power games with higher stakes than he realises; by William de Rham

Resplendent in his brand-new, hand-tailored, black sharkskin suit from Sabatini of London, Alex Taylor strode down New Hampshire Avenue on his way to the White House. He caught his reflection in a store window and stopped. Every hair was in place. The fit of his jacket was sublime. The knot of his pearl gray tie - the silk one his wife bought at Burberry's for their second anniversary - was perfectly centered between the points of his crisp, white shirt. He shot his cuffs just to see the gold links with the Presidential seal wink in the sun.

Grinning at the figure he cut, he turned. A passing redhead - tall and trim and very lithe - cocked an eye and smiled right back. Oh, she wants me, he assured himself, she knows she wants me! Below his belt, he felt a flutter.

With a spring in his step, he continued around Washington Circle and onto Pennsylvania Avenue. He paid no attention to the tulips that had opened in the night. All he cared about this fine May morning were the women heading for work or class at George Washington University. Just look at that blonde in the jeans and white Oxford shirt open to the third button. And how about that Nubian princess with her proud breasts and her swaying hips and her skin so black and smooth? The flutter became a stirring.

Easy, boy, he warned himself. Save it. When the wife's away, the cat...


He walked slowly down Pennsylvania - past tall office buildings filled with lobbyists and political action committees - making a conscious effort to keep his back straight and his head erect; as would a prince on the way to investiture. Only yesterday, the President had appointed him to replace Ken Jacobs as head of the White House Office of Congressional Relations. As the President's new chief lobbyist, he couldn't be seen slouching or scuttling his way to the White House. It just wouldn't do.

He arrived at the Executive Mansion, cleared all the security checkpoints, and went to his tiny office on the West Wing's second floor. Curtly nodding to his secretary, he shut the door and from behind the small, gray-steel, government-issue desk, began fielding congratulatory e-mails and phone calls while lobbying for the administration's farm subsidy package. It was a bill close to the hearts of the President and Alex's father-in-law, the Governor of Pennsylvania. As he talked, Alex sucked on licorice cough drops to keep from going hoarse.

"Hey, Charlie! How's everything in the House? We gonna get your vote? ... How many others you gonna get me? ... Six! Charlie, I told you, ten. You don't want to disappoint the President, do you? Not after that ride on Air Force One! ... Atta boy! Knew I could count on you!"

"Morning, Senator! Alex Taylor calling on behalf of President Reynolds. Just wondering if we could get you to change your mind on the farm subsidy... No, I wouldn't call it pork. And neither does the President. It's an urgently needed... mmm mmm... mmm mmm... I see. Yes ma'am... I'll let him know that's how you feel. By the way, we were wondering if you could drop by next week to chat about the base closure list. The President wants to hear your views on which bases in Virginia can be considered obsolete. His secretary will call you, I'm sure."

Alex gloated as he pictured the dressing down he'd have the President give the senior senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Serves the windy old gasbag right, he thought. Who does she think she is? Better do as she's told if she doesn't want that wrinkled old tit of hers caught in a wringer!

He worked the phone into the late afternoon. As he talked, he'd occasionally survey the bare, white walls and empty shelves and think how he couldn't wait until Monday when he'd take over Ken's office just steps away from the Oval. The Chief of Staff had graciously given Jacobs until the end of today to finish packing. The movers, painters, and decorators would work through the weekend to make the place Alex's.

By five-thirty, he had more than enough votes to get the subsidy through both houses of Congress. He called in his secretary and spent the next half-hour dictating correspondence for her to type for the President's signature tomorrow, before he left for Camp David. She shot Alex a look as she returned to her desk, which didn't bother him a bit. Who cares if it's Friday night? he thought impatiently. Besides, she's a fatty, and fatties never have anywhere to go. And even if she does, this is the White House, damn it! If she wanted 9-to-5, she should have gone someplace like Transportation or Education with the rest of the time-servers. Thank God, come Monday, I'll have Ken's girl. Bet she knows how to take care of the boss!

He packed his briefcase with everything he'd need for the weekend: a copy of the President's new health insurance bill, a stack of materials to get up to speed on the issues and, most important, his "bible:" the black, two inch, three ring binder containing his handwritten notes on every congressman and senator on the Hill. Most of it was dirt: who was stepping out on their spouse, or in the closet, or had their hand in the till. He'd paid for a lot of the information. He'd gathered even more by keeping his eyes and ears open. Since graduating from law school four years ago, he'd come a long way on dirt. Glancing at his watch, seeing he was about to be late, he grabbed his briefcase and hurried for the reception without stopping to wish his secretary a successful future, or even good night.

He entered the mansion by way of the Ground Floor Corridor, checked his case in the cloak room, and bounded up the stairs to the Entrance Hall. Except for a small Marine Band orchestra, uniformed in scarlet and gold, and the official portraits of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton, the grand foyer was deserted. As he stepped onto the gleaming, diamond-patterned marble floor, the orchestra struck up "Ruffles and Flourishes," and then "Hail to the Chief."

The music wasn't for Alex, of course. It was for the President, just entering the East Room around the corner. But the marshal strains thrilled Alex to his core, and in that moment he knew, one day, the music would be his. Heels and soles beating a tattoo, he strode into the marble-columned Cross Hall, turned right and continued along its red-and-gold carpet to the East Room.

Standing in the doorway to the mansion's largest reception room, Alex watched with approval as President Joshua Reynolds said goodbye to his old friend Ken. He paid scant attention to the East Room's high, white walls and ceiling, or its golden drapes, or even its three Bohemian, cut-glass chandeliers sparkling like fireworks on the Fourth of July. The golden glow of the room left him untouched, as did the centuries-old portrait of George Washington rescued by Dolly Madison in the War of 1812, and the painting of Teddy Roosevelt whose children had roller skated on this very parquet floor. All he cared about was confirming Ken's departure; that, and seeing who was here - who he could wheedle, cajole, or bully into supporting the President's health insurance package.

"Ken, we want you to know how important you've been to this administration, and the country, and how much you'll be missed," said the President before an applauding audience of three hundred. "And even though you're going home to Philadelphia and the firm, we know you'll be back for those projects requiring your special touch -"

Okay, enough with the face-saving horseshit, Alex fumed. Everyone knows you're dumping Ken because he couldn't get the tax bill done. Doesn't matter if he was your law school roommate, and your law partner, and the guy who helped get you elected. He couldn't get it done, so he's out. He's out because he drinks too much, and has a big mouth, and cares more about being everybody's buddy than doing his job. But mostly he's out because he failed to get the tax bill through, and that made you look weak, and that's the last thing you can afford. So, he's out and I'm in and this White House is going to start playing politics the way it's supposed to be played: rough and dirty!

The President gave Ken his farewell gift: a crystal bowl from Tiffany's with an etching of the White House. It was trophy-sized and Alex guessed it would reside in the glass cabinet in the lobby of Reynolds, Parrish & Jacobs, the law firm the President, the Governor, and Ken had started, and that had hired Alex right out of law school.

When Ken spoke, it was plain to Alex he'd already had a few. He weaved from side to side, struggling to enunciate every syllable ve--ry clear--ly. When his voice broke, the President waved and said: "Okay everyone, have a great party!"

As the orchestra swung into a medley of show tunes, Alex bolted for the bar. "Vodka tonic," he ordered, and watched as the white jacketed steward squeezed half a key lime into a tall crystal glass, and built a drink of ice, Absolut, and India tonic. Thirsty after a day of non-stop talking, Alex drained half the drink in three swallows. Ice cold, it went down smoothly to spread a relaxing warmth inside his belly. He drained the rest of the drink and the knots in his neck and shoulders loosened. Alex held his glass out to the bartender and shook the ice. Stone-faced, the steward turned to serve one of the many guests now crowding the bar.

Just as Alex opened his mouth to complain, a heavy arm landed on his shoulders.

"Here's my protégé! Here's the man to fill my shoes!" cried Ken Jacobs, bear-hugging Alex too him. "Whatcha' drinkin'? Vodka tonic again? Why ya wanna drink that swill? Follow me, kid. I'll getcha the good stuff."

"Thanks Ken, but I think I'll stick with -"

"Now, none of that! You follow me. Someone wants to talk to you. He pulled Alex down the Cross Hall to a set of varnished double doors surmounted by the Seal of the President of the United States and flanked by the American flag and the blue Presidential standard.

Jacobs led Alex through those doors and into the large oval parlor at the center of the mansion known as the Blue Room. With its rich blue carpet and satin drapes, and its antique, gilded furniture in the French Empire style, it seemed a room fit for a French queen or Russian tsar. A long table covered by a snow-white table cloth and crowded with silver salvers and buckets filled with iced caviar, vodka, and champagne - all Ken's favorites - added to the splendor. Only the portraits of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe served as reminders that this was the People's House.

The President stood at the center of the room with a cigar and a glass of whiskey talking with his Surgeon General. Blue smoke swirled and eddied through the shafts of sunlight pouring through the three floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the South Lawn and the Washington Monument beyond. He was surrounded by a crowd of people straining for just one word, yearning for the chance to say they'd had a President's ear.

As soon as the President saw Ken and Alex, he broke away.

"It's my A-Team!" he thundered.

"Well, half of it anyway, Mr. President," said Ken.

"Hell, Ken! You'll always be on my A-Team. You're going to get some rest and then get back here, pronto. With the election and a second term coming up, there's plenty for you to do. And just think of all those fine, fat fees!"

"Very kind, Mr. President," said Ken.

But Alex could see Ken knew he was finished. The loss of the tax bill had humiliated the administration. The President's press secretary - whose family was renting the five-bedroom home in Chevy Chase left to Alex by his parents - had made sure to lay as much of the blame as he could onto Ken.

"And how's my ace reliever?" asked the President, turning to Alex. "Not two days on the job and you've already got the farm bill sewn up. Totally awesome, as my daughter would say."

The President's hand was on his back and Alex noticed, for what seemed the hundredth time, how uncomfortable he was under the Presidential touch. It was a feeling he'd had since that night at the firm - the night he'd learned how powerful dirt could be.

"Thank you, Mr. President," said Alex. "Now we'll go after that health insurance package. Once that's passed, re-election will be in the bag."

"I do so love ambition," said the President. "Especially when it's for my benefit." He and Jacobs shared a laugh, like the old comrades they were.

A steward passed and Jacobs' hands shot out to grab three small, gold-rimmed vodka glasses from a tray. "A toast!" he cried, offering a glass each to Alex and the President, who refused in favor of his whiskey. "To health insurance."

"To health insurance," echoed Alex and the President. Ken and Alex downed their shots, while the President puffed at his cigar. "Here kid," said Jacobs, handing Alex the extra vodka. "You need it more than me. They're all your headaches now."

"I'm good," said Alex, raising his hand to refuse while he surveyed the crowd. "Need to keep a clear head if we want to pass that bill."

"Oh relax, will you?" scoffed Jacobs. "You've got plenty of time. Enjoy yourself."

"He's right, Alex," said the President. "Drink up. Everyone needs a little fun now and then. How's that pretty wife of yours. She here tonight?"

"No sir. She and the baby are up in Harrisburg, visiting the Governor and Mrs. Parrish."

"You know the First Lady and I think the world of her," said the President. "I'll never forget the first time I saw her. She was only days old and her dad and Ken here and I were all young Turks in Philadelphia, going to some black tie, rubber chicken dinner for George McGovern at the Union League. It was the 70's and I had sideburns and one of those god-awful ruffled shirts, brand new and expensive as hell, and when I held your future wife in my arms for the first time, you know what she did?"

"No sir," said Alex, although he'd heard the story from his father-in-law too many times to count.

"She spit up all over that shirt." A new crowd had gathered and it burst into appreciative laughter. "We had quite a time with a wash cloth and a hair dryer," the President chortled, playing to his audience. "Anyway, that's when her Mom and Dad asked me to be godfather. Proudest day of my life. There's nothing I wouldn't do -"

The rest of the sentence was lost to Alex. There, just over the President's shoulder, was the most stunning woman Alex had ever seen. Tall, statuesque, and with a regal bearing, she wore a white silk dress baring a single, creamy shoulder. Her hair was honey colored with golden highlights that shone in the light of the setting sun. It fell in waves to caress the skin of her neck and shoulders. Her nose was long and straight, its slight freckling - along with the trim, lithe musculature of her bare hands, arms, and legs - bespoke an active, outdoors life.

Her eyes locked on his in an avid stare. Then she smiled. It wasn't one of those fake, toothpaste-ad smiles that Alex saw so often around Washington. It was a slight smile that lifted the corners of her mouth, flared her nostrils, and narrowed her bottle-green eyes. Some might have called it sardonic, even cynical. All Alex could see was blatant sexuality.

An image of her - lips parted, head tilted for a kiss - flashed in his mind's eye and the bottom dropped out of his stomach, just as if he were riding the world's fastest elevator down the world's tallest building. He could see his fingers slip the dress off her shoulder, feel his lips caress the soft skin over her clavicle, hear the intake of her breath as his hands cupped her -

"- has your wife lost?"

Alex felt the President's hand on his back again and realized he had no idea where the conversation had gone.

"Alex, boy! You with me?" laughed the President.

"Yes sir, absolutely."

"Well then, how much?"

"How much what?"

"I think that last vodka got him," the President laughed, as onlookers chuckled. "How much weight has your wife lost?"

"Oh... I..."

"I was just explaining to everyone how the First Lady and your Molly are dieting together. Sharon says she doesn't know what she'd do without Molly's support. It been a godsend for her. Sharon's already lost ten pounds..."

Now the woman was closer - less than five feet away - and Alex could smell her fragrance. Spicy, exotic, redolent of cloves, cedar, and carnations, it was Opium, his favorite perfume. He'd given a bottle to Molly one Christmas, but she never wore it. "Opium? Opium den's more like it," she'd giggled, scrunching her nose as she replaced the stopper on the bottle.

"H'lo Josie!" said Jacobs.

"Ken," said the woman. Her eyes never left Alex.

"Mr. President," said Jacobs, "allow me to present Josie Brooks. She's the P.R. consultant we spoke about."

"Of course! Ken's been singing your praises. Said you had lots of ideas about rallying support for the health insurance initiative. It's lucky Alex is here. He's our new go-to guy when it comes to Congress. You two should sit down and strategize, see what you can come up with."

"I'd enjoy that" she replied, giving Alex that same smile.

"Grand!" said the President. "Then we'll leave you in Alex's capable hands. Welcome aboard."

With that, the President and Ken headed for the neighboring Green Room to continue mingling.

"Is that caviar I spy over there? Let's go, before it's all gone," Josie said, leading Alex to the table. "And Stoli on ice. Ever had the two together? As they do in Russia? Yum!" She dipped a small spoon into the caviar and slipped it into his mouth, as might a bride feeding wedding cake to her husband. "Now chase it with the vodka. All of it. See? Is that or is that not better than sex?"

As his mouth recovered from the vodka and the last of the salty fish eggs popped between his teeth, Alex could only nod.

"Now, you do me."

Twenty minutes later, six empty vodka glasses lined the table like soldiers on parade, and Alex and Josie had yet to exchange a word about health insurance.

"Dance?" she asked softly, again favoring him with that smile. She took his hand and walked him out of the Blue Room and onto the Entrance Hall's ice-like marble floor.

"Did you know that Lady Diana danced with John Travolta on this very spot?" she asked, slipping into his arms and molding her body to his. The floor was so crowded no one noticed how close they were, or how slowly they revolved. Her hair on his cheek was soft and her fragrance enchanting. Through his trousers, he could feel the promise of her pubic bone and his own flesh hardened.

"I guess that leaves us with only one question," she chuckled, grinding her pelvis into his. "Where? My place is an hour away."

By now, Alex's face was numb and his tongue thick from the vodka. Neither reputation nor discretion occurred to him. All he wanted was her. "Mine's ten," he said as they danced under the official portrait of a some-said-pensive, some-said-mournful Jack Kennedy.

Extricating themselves from the crush, they flew down the stairs, retrieved his briefcase, and then were in the White House parking lot standing at her car. It was a yellow MG convertible with a black top, bucket seats, and a racing stripe.

As soon as they closed the doors, they were at each other, mouths open, tasting each other's lips and tongues. His hand found her bare thigh, smooth as the silk of her dress, and glided up to a downy mane unencumbered by panties. His fingers stroked her insides, letting loose a flood. Her hand found his zipper and released him. Just as she bent to take him in her mouth, they heard footsteps, then voices, and froze.

The voices grew louder, passed, and receded. Alex giggled with relief as Josie started the car. It was then that the need for caution, but not fidelity, occurred to him. We men of power, we're entitled to this, he assured himself. The trick is not getting caught. Just like the President and the Governor got to have their fun in the shower when they were still partners at the firm, I get this. At least I'm not stupid enough to allow a first year associate catch me in the act. Nor would I be gutless enough to cave in to his blackmail. He snorted in derision.

Minutes later, they drove into the garage under Alex's building and took the elevator up to his apartment, bypassing the lobby and doorman. Alex opened the door and Josie walked through, pulling off her dress in one fluid motion. As soon as the door closed, she was on him, stripping him of his jacket and shirt, pulling him to the couch, pushing his head down to the shaved strip of her fiery red bush.

His lips and tongue found the center of her pleasure, and she moaned. Her fingers intertwined themselves in his hair, her legs opened wide, and her hips bucked as he struggled to free himself from his trousers and enter her.

She never gave him the chance, not right then. Spying a bottle of champagne on the bar, she pushed him back, leapt off the couch, grabbed it, and ran into the bedroom where she popped the cork and, lying on the bed, poured it over herself for him to drink. He loved the taste of the warm wine mixed with the salt of her sweat. Her Opium filled his head and drove him deep inside her as her tongue filled his mouth. He started with long, slow strokes. Her legs came up to encircle him and she gripped him tight with her thighs. Her insides were hot and slick. Faster and faster he pounded himself into her, crying out as she thrust with her pelvis and scored his back with her nails until finally, roaring into each other through sex-chapped lips, together, they came.

As he lay on top of her, trembling, he thought he was too exhausted to ever have sex again. But another bottle of champagne - this one cold from the fridge - and a line or two of the cocaine she fetched from her purse, soon had them going again. It was the first time Alex had ever done coke and he was amazed at how it enhanced his performance. Snorting, sweating, straining, screaming, they drank and fucked until the first light of dawn and then fell away from each other to sleep.

He woke an hour later to find her gone. There was no note, no address or telephone number, nothing to say she'd ever been there - except for the ache in his head and the still-damp sheets now sour with old wine, sex, and her perfume. He started to strip the bed, but a wave of dizziness overcame him. Pulling on his robe, he went out to the balcony for fresh air. Images of the night flooded his brain, and he started to grow hard again.

Just as he turned to hide himself and go in to take a shower, he heard the roar of a powerful engine. A yellow MG with a black top and racing stripe shot down the street below him, weaving back and forth across the center line. When it reached the corner, it veered, caromed off a parked car, and smashed into a utility pole. A hubcap rolled away to clatter in the street. Then silence reigned.

As steam rose from the crumpled hood, the door opened and the woman he knew as Josie stepped out. She neither staggered nor lurched, as one might have expected, and instead of her beautiful Romanesque dress, she wore a track suit, cross-trainers, and, of all things on a fine May morning, gloves.

Alex opened his mouth to call to her, but she had already begun to run, just like any early-morning jogger. When she reached the end of the block, she turned the corner and was gone. Alex heard the wail of sirens. Just then, a network news truck rumbled up the street and stopped. It was not until a cameraman jumped out and began filming that Alex remembered he'd left his briefcase in the yellow MG.



At six o'clock on Monday morning, a bleary-eyed White House Chief of Staff knocked on the President's bedroom door. He'd spent the weekend trying to control the damage caused by the discovery of Alex Taylor's briefcase in a sports car reported stolen by one of Washington's most notorious call girls, the buxom brunette named Lilly Rose.

Minutes after the news truck arrived on scene, its enterprising cameraman had searched the car and opened the briefcase to find Alex's White House ID, his notebook on Congress, and enough cocaine to warrant an arrest for possession with intent to distribute. Several hours later, when the police finally came to Alex's apartment to question him, he was gone.

Back at the police station, an evidence clerk hungry for cash quickly ran off copies of the notebook which he sold to several reporters. By noon, Alex's picture, the first morsels from his notebook, and speculation that he was dealing coke from inside the White House were all over the news.

Now the Chief of Staff was hoarse from forty-eight straight hours of meetings and telephone calls with police, press, and people from The Hill and The Justice Department, not to mention Alex's wife and in-laws. He pleaded for calm, restraint, and time to get to the bottom of it all. Moments ago, he'd learned it had all been a waste of time. Now, he was pissed.

The bedroom door opened and there stood the President of the United States in slippers, pajamas, and robe, fresh-faced from a family weekend at Camp David and a just-completed shave.

"You know what that little cocksucker did?" the Chief of Staff exploded before the President could speak. "He offed himself! Can you believe it? They just found him hanging from a tree in Rock Creek Park!"

The President's eyes went wide as his mouth pursed in consternation. He stepped out into the corridor, closing the door behind him.

"I guess that makes things pretty simple, doesn't it," the President mused, after a minute of thought. "Now, we really can lay the whole thing on Alex - say he was a rogue operator engaging in illegal and unethical conduct without our knowledge. And we contain the cocaine thing by making everyone in the West Wing take a drug test by five this afternoon. If we're all clean, which we'd better be, that'll take care of the charge he was dealing to the staff. Everybody gets tested, even you and me. Anyone who refuses or fails is gone! Then we go to the funeral, close ranks around the widow, and get back to work."

"Do you want me to call the Governor? Let him know what's happened so he can tell his daughter before she sees it on TV?"

"You let me worry about that."

"Everybody's asking who's going to head the Office of Congressional Relations."

"You let me worry about that too. You just call the First Lady up at Camp David and tell her to get back here first thing. I'll see you at the eight o'clock staff meeting."

Closing the door, the President crossed the room, picked up his private line swept for bugs by the Signal Corps every day, and dialed the Governor of Pennsylvania's private line. The Governor answered mid-way through the first ring. Since no one could be sure who might be monitoring his phone, their conversation was brief.

"Good Morning, Ted. That subsidy's a done deal." said the President.

"Good," the Governor replied. "I'm sure we're all quite relieved."

"My best to Molly."

"And mine to you, old friend."

The President broke the connection and then turned to Ken Jacobs who, also in slippers and robe, relaxed in a chair.

"They found him," remarked the President, picking up a shaving mug and brush.

"Mmm mmm," said Jacobs, as the President lathered his face.

"That gal of yours certainly knows her business."

"Mmm mmm."

"How do you suppose she hoisted him up that tree?"

"Mmmmmm."

"Ready to go back to work?"

"Mmm mmm."

"I hear the movers never showed up this weekend?" commented the President, scraping the stubble off his lover's cheek.

"Mmm," replied Jacobs. "Guess I'm going to have to give back that lovely bowl."

2 comments:

  1. i don´t usually go for thrillers. but this is breathless. detailed, informative, it reads as though the writer knows this world.
    i think it is brilliant.

    michael mccarthy

    ReplyDelete