Senator Blogo Landry, the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, told Senator Flik Maynard on Sunday night that he would hold an emergency hearing Tuesday about the national debt, and would let Flik blab on and on about the debt or whatever else he wanted.
But there was one condition. Flik had to run over to Blogo’s townhouse with a bag of warm hushpuppies by Monday morning at 8 a.m., or the deal was off.
“What kind of request is that?” Flik barked at Blogo over the phone Sunday night. “Deliver you breakfast? Have a staffer get them. You can get anyone else to deliver those to you.”
“And you can get any other committee to hold a hearing on the debt for you, cantcha?” Blogo said calmly. Flik could practically hear him smiling over the phone. “Come to think of it, maybe we don’t have any jurisdiction over the debt, I’m less and less sure about it. It really sounds much more like a Governmental Affairs matter, or Budget, donnit?”
“How many hushpuppies?” Flik said, defeated.
Flik woke up bright and early Monday morning to complete his mission. He hit the Senate gym first, then changed in his office, and took the Capitol subway system to one of the Senate buildings to get as close as he could to Blogo’s favorite restaurant.
He got off the train, rode the elevator up to the surface, and found it was raining.
“Goddammit,” he muttered from the doorway of the Senate office building.
That prompted one of the door guards to walk over and offer his own umbrella. He didn’t say a word, just handed it over, like it was an obvious fact of nature that Flik, a U.S. senator, should take priority if he and any other person both needed an umbrella in the rain.
“Thank you for your service,” Flik said, unable to think of anything else more appropriate. He dashed out into the rain and cut across a street to go as directly as he could to the restaurant. After a few blocks he saw it, “Po’Boy’s.” Jesus Christ.
No one inside seemed to know or care he was a senator, and he was stuck in a line with five people in front of him. After a few minutes and some polite chit chat, he had a dozen warm, sugared hushpuppies in a bag. He ran out the door into the rain again.
Two blocks later he saw Blogo’s townhouse, and it was a marvel. Most senators could afford a nice apartment that they might share with another senator or two, but Blogo, one of the old dogs of the Senate, had what looked like a castle. Freshly painted, a small yard in the front, and the way it was fenced off, it looked like all three floors to himself. He punched in a code to open the gate, walked up to the door, and rang the bell.
The door opened and there he was, the legendary Blogo. He must have been 75 by now, but he looked about 15 years older than that.
“Well, Senator Maynard, we are well met,” Landry said. He was in a blue housecoat and didn’t look like he had showered for the day yet. “Having a nice weekend?”
“It’s Monday,” Flik said.
“Well, that’s still the weekend, isn’t it? At least for us in the Senate,” Blogo said. “But here, come in out of the rain.”
Flik entered and followed Blogo down the hall into the kitchen. His host gestured toward the counter and Flik placed the bag of warm hushpuppies down.
“They smell delicious,” Blogo said. “And still warm. How much do I owe you for them?”
“It’s on me,” Flik said, and suddenly he caught a glimpse into how Blogo could afford his townhouse on a senator’s salary. “Thanks also for agreeing to the hearing. It’s important. Our debt situation has gotten completely out of control, and we…”
“I read the papers, Senator Maynard,” the old man interrupted. “I agree it’s important and I’m happy to provide a forum. We’ll hold it right away, on Tuesday. You’ll want to get my scheduler a list of your witnesses as soon as possible.”
He made the tiniest gesture toward the front door, which Flik took as a cue to leave. He walked out of the kitchen toward the front door, when Flik stopped and faced Blogo.
“I don’t get it, Mr. Chairman,” he said. “You’re doing this for a bag of hushpuppies? Anyone could get you these, they’re two blocks away.”
“The hushpuppies themselves don’t mean much,” he said. “Just fried cornflour dusted with sugar. Delicious, but a commodity item, it’s true. But there are other considerations, such as who I’m comfortable bringing into my home. You never know what a guest might see, and there are only so many people I trust. I feel I can trust a senator, but I am far less trusting of staff.”
Just then, a toilet flushed and hall door opened behind them, and both men turned to see a young woman exit. She was wearing the same color bathrobe as the senator. She flashed an innocent smile.
“Ah, here is my scheduler now,” he said. “Shelly, this is Senator Flik Maynard. He’ll be sending you some names soon for our hearing in a few days.”
Shelly just smiled at both men, and stood frozen in the hall until Blogo said, “The hushpuppies are in the kitchen, darling.”
Her eyes lit up and she pranced into the kitchen. Flik pretended not to watch as she reached into the bag and then squealed with delight as she bit into one of the fried treats. Senator Landry cleared his throat quietly, which brought Flik’s attention back to the elderly gentleman in front of him.
“That’s right, Senator Maynard, I have an extra-curricular relationship with my lovely aide there,” he beamed. “I don’t mind you knowing, I suspect many already know. But there’s a reason I don’t mind people knowing, and that reason is that I’m a man of power.”
“OK,” Flik said. “Congratulations. Good for you.” He didn’t know where the old man was going with this.
“I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I wasn’t always a man of power,” Blogo said. “In my youth, when I was nobody, I never would have dared to step out of my marriage, make myself vulnerable like that. Especially if I were about to start stepping on other people’s toes.”
“You mean, back when you were a nobody like me?” Flik said.
“Precisely. Senator Maynard, do you have a death wish?” Blogo asked.
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“Because are about to make a great many people unhappy, with your talk about the debt,” Blogo said. “A great many people. And yet, you too are involved in some extra-curricular activities with your staff. You are vulnerable, senator.”
“How do you know…?”
“Even if I didn’t know, I might have guessed as much,” Blogo said. “But Shelly here does have a way of collecting information.”
Flik looked down that hall at Shelly, who had already finished off one hushpuppy and was starting another. Flik looked back at Blogo.
“Thanks senator,” Flik said. “Good advice.”
“I never gave you any advice at all, Senator Maynard!”
“Right,” Flik said. “I’ll be in touch with Shelly very soon.”
He walked out, and the old man shut the door behind him.
Jesus, Flik thought as he struggled to shield himself from the rain. What the hell was that? He ran under an awning to get away from the raindrops and sort it all out.
What was that visit for? It seemed like a raw demonstration of power. Maybe Blogo didn’t care at all about the debt, and just wanted to make a rookie senator jump through hoops to get his hearing.
But it also seemed to be an initiation. Blogo already knew that Flik was sleeping with his own staffer. Now they knew each other’s secrets, so he was in the club. Maybe Flik had finally arrived, and had a major ally who could help him advance.
Or maybe it didn’t mean anything except Senator Landry liked to fuck with everything. Fuck with a new senator. Fuck with his young staffers. Maybe he had been here in Washington so long that he had no empathy anymore, and just did whatever he wanted and it didn’t really matter who saw, or who knew about it.
But he seemed to deliver a real message. Flik’s relationship with Tika was potentially dangerous. If an old coot like Blogo knew, others knew, or could find out. If he made a lot of noise on the debt, maybe he’d piss off the wrong person, someone who would reveal it to everyone. To his wife.
Jesus, did he really have to break it off with Tika? Probably it made sense. But just a day before the hearing? He really needed her to help him get ready. Dumping her would throw her off, who knows how she’d react. But the old man was right, he’d probably have to do it.
What a mess, he thought as he looked out at the rain. It was getting heavier. He looked up and the clouds were dark. It looked like it could rain for a while, and Flik suddenly felt like a little boy, all alone and in trouble.
He was just about to make a run for the Capitol subway when a black car pulled up, and a door opened.
“Senator Maynard, please get in, no need for you to rush home in the rain,” said a voice from inside.
Finally, Flik thought, somebody around here knows who I am. He ran from the awning, jumped in the car and slammed the door. He brushed some of the water off his expensive suit and looked up to see whom he had to thank for the ride.
“Hello again, senator,” said the man. “It’s me, Levi Raffets. Remember, the White House staffer you belittled in public when you demanded a report on how much the war in China will cost.”
The name froze Flik. He suddenly had some feeling there was someone behind him with a gun. His eyes involuntarily strayed to the back of the car before he could stop then, and this guy Raffets seemed to enjoy his reflexive response.
“You’re not in trouble, senator,” Raffets said. “We were looking for you, and we found you. I’m happy to drop you back at the office, or your apartment, or wherever else you’re going.”
Flik relaxed a little. “That’s great, thanks for the ride. So, do you have that report for me, on war costs? Is that what this is about?”
That seemed to anger Raffets. He readjusted himself in his seat and stared out the other window, but Flik could see the man was suppressing a snarl.
“No, the report… isn’t ready yet,” Raffets said. “But we should talk, senator. About your questions about the war. About the precarious state of our great nation.”
“Senator, I am President Dawson’s deputy national security adviser,” Raffets said. “That puts me in a position to know things. Classified things. Things that even you in the Senate aren’t privileged to hear. There are reasons why certain things happen in the world. Do you think a bunch of reckless fools are running things, and decide on a whim to bomb Japan? Bomb China? There are certain things at stake, Senator Maynard, and the actions we take are meant to protect those things we value.”
“You want to re-do the hearing, right now in this car?” Flik asked. “Fine. Tell me, what exactly are all those important reasons for bombing Japan, and bombing China? What are we protecting by taking those actions?”
“And who exactly are you, senator, that I would reveal some of the nation’s deepest national security secrets?” Raffets spat out. “Hmm? A first-term senator, fresh from some little state legislature? There’s an order to these things, Senator Maynard. We have a Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate. If you’d like to hear some of our secrets, I suggest you start sucking up to the right people so you can hope to get on that committee.”
“Then, if you’re ever lucky enough to be considered, we’ll start a background check on you that’s so thorough you might beg us to stop,” he said. “Whatever there is to know about you, we’ll know it. Are you a spy for China? Do you cheat on your taxes? We’ll find out who you were thinking about when you jerked off in the shower in 11th grade, and then we’ll find her and run a scan on her entire family. Does that sound fun?”
“And then, if you’re cleared, you’ll get to sit in some briefings and learn all the things we do to keep America safe, because you’ll have earned it,” Raffets continued. “You’ll have shown us you deserve to know these things, these secrets that horrible evil-doers like President Dawson keep secret because we love our country and want to protect it.”
“But until then, you’re a nobody, do you understand? You’re making some noise to advance your own short-term notoriety,” Raffets said. “What are you going to do? Rant and rave about the national debt, talk about how it’s made us make some tough choices over the years? We’re already aware of that, so thanks for nothing. And then what? You have no answers. Or if you have some answers, no one else will agree with you, so you’re back at the beginning again. And so you’ll scare a lot of people for nothing, and actually run the risk of pushing us toward a real credit crisis.”
Raffets looked out the window, as he tried to calm down. He traced some of the raindrops on the outside of the window with this finger.
“Everything you just said is just code for ‘shut up, don’t rock the boat, leave everything the way it is,’” Flik said. “You’re saying massive issues like debt and war can only be talked about in secret in the closed-door meeting with the lucky five percent of Congress that gets to know about it. That’s not right. People are paying for this. You work for them. You can’t sit there and pretend it’s all gotten so big and so intricate that normal people can’t figure it out.”
Raffets turned back to face Flik again. “You are damn well fucking right I’m saying don’t rock the boat. The boat we’re talking about here, you back-bencher, is U.S. national security. We have a structure for doing this. Talk to some of your Republican friends, see what they think about your idea to have a big, open discussion about all this.”
“Senator Landry doesn’t seem to mind,” Flik said. “He’s fine with a big, open discussion. He’s setting it up for next week.”
“You’re a shithead,” Raffets said.
“Jesus Christ, man, I’m a goddamn senator,” Flik shouted. “Show a little respect.”
“So what? You’re still a shithead,” Raffets said. “It’s not mutually exclusive. You think Landry will save you? I wouldn’t see that as a big win for you. He’s nuts. Look at what happened. He weighed the situation and decided he’d do you the favor of blowing a hole in U.S. national security if you stopped by the bakery for him. Does that sound like a sane guy who’s worried about our national interest?”
It suddenly hit Flik: how did Raffets know so much about what they were doing? Planning the hearing? Exposing the link between war and debt? How did Raffets even know Flik would be meeting with Landry right today? He even knew about the hushpuppies. There must be round-the-clock surveillance on him.
“I think you’re scared,” Flik said defiantly. “I think the boat you don’t want me to rock is the boat you’re sailing on. All the power. All the control. No one can know anything but a few special guys, and you’re one of them. You’ve been spying on me for a few days now, haven’t you? Let me out right here. I’ll walk home.”
“Not yet,” Raffets said. “We’ll let you out in a few more blocks.”
Flik tensed up. What the hell was this now? Would this prick actually kill a senator? Dump his body in the Potomac?
“Where are we going?” Flik asked.
“I’m obviously unable to convince you,” Raffets said. “And I figured I wouldn’t be able to. So we have a meeting, with someone who can do a better job. I figured, hey, it’s just Monday, you don’t have anything planned, right? Holiday in the Senate.”
Flik looked out the window and saw the car pulling around to the White House. It stopped for a few seconds as they lowered a security barrier and cleared the car in, and then they were driving up to the west side entrance of the building itself.
“Who am I meeting with?” Flik asked.
“You have to cancel the hearing, senator,” Raffets said. “It’s beyond you. You’d be stepping on toes you don’t even know exist. You have to know your place here.”
“But if I can’t convince you, maybe President Dawson can,” Raffets added.
The car stopped, the door opened, and an usher was there to meet them.
“Good morning, senator,” the young woman said. “President Dawson is waiting for you.”