The Candidate

By: Josie Brown

Hence, Andy Mansfield’s crude albeit admiring declaration.

Yep, Ben Brinker was his party’s consummate kingmaker, and everyone knew it. Why else had the dimpled Katie, gushing sweetness and light, put in the call herself yesterday, requesting that Calder grace her celebrated couch? Forget Diane, or Matt, or Anderson, or that constantly PMSing coven at The View. For his client, Ben had scored the queen of daytime talk shows!

As he shook Mansfield’s hand, Ben couldn’t help but size him up as a candidate. No doubt about it the senator had a lot going for him. The fact that he was six foot two, with a full head of hair and square-jawed good looks all certainly worked in his favor. It also helped that he hailed from North Carolina, a state coveted by both sides of the aisle for its swing electoral votes. Sons of the South rarely had problems garnering the votes of neighboring states, particularly if they were Republicans like Mansfield. He was a populist, but he had somehow skirted his party’s Tea Party pressure cooker politics.

At forty-six years of age he would be the youngest candidate in the race. But in a presidential election, youth only reinforced any perceived inexperience. Granted, others had sidestepped that deficit: Clinton for one, not to mention Obama. Ben certainly knew how he’d make it a non issue for Mansfield: focus on his seven years as a senator, his middle-of-the-road voting history; his exemplary military record as a Marine fighter pilot with the renowned Checkerboards Squadron 312; and his seat on the Senate Arms Services Committee. And he’d have to make sure that the planks in his solidly populist platform were well-positioned with the media—

From Mansfield’s gaze, Ben realized that the senator was also contemplating what might have been, if fate had played them different hands. And yet both men knew it was a moot exercise. In the first place, Ben worked exclusively with Democrats. Even if that weren’t the case, from the looks of things the Republican powers-that-be were going to be backing Vice President Clemson Talbot, not some GOP upstart, no matter how ideal a candidate he might be.

Maybe that’s why Mansfield is here without a real handler, thought Ben. He’s lucky his wife–what’s her name, Alice? Abigail?–has deep pockets. It’s his only hope to hang in there.

Reality having set in, both men turned back to the TV just in time to see Richard Calder lose any chance of ever getting elected as Katie asked him, in a quiet but firm voice: “So tell me, Congressman, does the name Jenna McElvoy ring a bell?”

All the color drained out from under Calder’s pancake makeup as she directed him to the monitor beside her. What materialized on it was Calder’s long-time lover, a slight, pretty woman in her mid-thirties.

Fuck, no. Oh no, Ben thought.

Sitting beside Jenna was the love child she’d had with Calder: a cute four-year-old tyke named Cole. The boy was small for his age, listless and pale, even for television.

Then again, having a congenital heart disease will do that to a kid.

So yeah, Katie had contrived another perfect gotcha! moment. If there was any doubt to the contrary, she laid it to rest as she held up the next day’s issue of the Enquirer and asked the congressman when, if ever, he planned on introducing Jenna to Sarah, his wife of thirty-one years.

“Holy shit!” Mansfield’s aide hadn’t realized that he’d uttered the oath out loud until he saw the doom in Ben’s eyes. The kid stared down at his snow-spattered Florsheims.

In that nanosecond, Ben realized that his career had imploded along with his client’s.

And if that wasn’t enough of a tip-off, the strangled moans from the two New Hampshire Dem chairs said it all. They gathered their coats and scurried away from Ben without a backward glance. The snickers emanating from the Tilt’n Diner’s counter regulars had them practically running out the door.

“Tough break, Brinker.” Mansfield’s sympathy seemed real. “I guess Calder’s little extracurricular activity slipped by your vetting process.”

Vetting process? Yeah sure, there was a time when Ben actually cared if his clients withstood a sniff test. But that was years ago, when he was still young and idealistic. It only took a campaign or two before Ben caught on to the fact that all politicians had skeletons in their closets. The goal was to keep them from popping out during the race. Why should one personal misguided indiscretion stop a good candidate’s quest to improve the lives of all Americans?

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