The Candidate

By: Josie Brown

Lately, 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.

“And 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!”

No 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 off?”

“No, not exactly. I mean—”

“Save 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 the election.”

It 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.

Instead he took a deep breath. “Can I help it that the Enquirer made her a better offer?”

His 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?

Yeah, 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?

No, even I won’t sink that low, thought Ben.

Ben 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.

He 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?”

Calder 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?”

If the 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.

Ben’s 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:

“—Is 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?”

The 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—”

“If I 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.”

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