The Candidate

By: Josie Brown

“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.”

“Bottom 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.

“Nah, 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 candidates’ chances—”

This 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–”

All eyes in the bar turned to Ben.

Hit 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.

Swallowing hard, he tossed a ten on the bar and, with what dignity he could muster, walked to the men’s room.

Once inside, he kicked open an empty stall, and promptly threw up.

“I never thought I’d ever hear from you again.” It was Jenna’s idea that they meet far out of town, and suggested Brookside Gardens, in Silver Spring. Ben could see why. Ever since the Couric interview, the media had been hounding her like a pack of wolves. At this frigid time of year, the gardens would be empty.

Of course, the last thing he needed was any further association with Calder, or with Jenna either, for that matter. But no; he had to do this one last thing.

Ben hardly recognized her. Not only was she thinner and more haggard but for once she didn’t have Cole at her side. “Where’s the little guy?”

“With his physical therapist, so I don’t have much time.” Jenna’s eyes darted constantly as she scanned the empty rows of bushes, as if someone might be lurking. He couldn’t blame her for being antsy. Still, knowing her, he had no doubt that she was too ashamed to look him in the eye. “So what do you want, Ben?”

“Here. Take this.” He opened the bag he was carrying and pulled out a book: David Copperfield.

She stared down at it, puzzled. “Is this for Cole?”

“Yeah, you could say that. There’s a hundred dollar bill at the beginning of every other chapter. It’s not much, but still. I know you can use it.”

Tears glazed her soft brown eyes. “But—I thought, after last night...He wants me to have it anyway?”

Ben shrugged. “We both know Dick better than that.”

“Jeez, Ben, he’ll hit the roof when he finds out you did this.” The hand she laid on top of his was the one with which she’d wiped away her tears. The dampness comforted him.

“I don’t give a flying fuck. And neither should you. Besides, the way I had the account set up, there’s nothing he can do about it.” He sighed. “Not that it matters now, but just out of curiosity, how much did you get for the interview anyway? It better have been worth it.”

“A quarter of a million.”

Ben winced. “Damn, Jenna. There was eight times that amount in Cole’s account. Between the two of us we’d have convinced him to raise your allowance.”

“Like you said—we both know Dick better than that.”

“But you know me, too. Jenna. Do you think I could have done that to you? To Cole?”

Her lip trembled, but she held her head steady. “Not in a million years—once upon a time. But I couldn’t risk finding out the hard way you weren’t that guy anymore.” She hugged the book to her chest. “I’m sorry, Ben. Forgive me.”

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