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Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

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Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Lunghezza:
407 pagine
5 ore
Pubblicato:
Dec 14, 2013
ISBN:
9781310251559
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

When Mildred Smith, a smart but shy woman, is suddenly widowed by the death of her Republican congressman husband in the apartment of his mistress, she is approached by his top staffers to run for his seat in a special election. They want to retain their power in Congress and plan to control her vote.

Mildred wins the election and is excited about the prospect of using the opportunity in Congress to make a positive difference. But she soon realizes she has been summarily dismissed as a lightweight by other members of Congress. Instead of making her own decisions, she is expected to vote the way her husband did. When she proposes her own bill instead of one her husband sponsored, she is opposed even by her own staff, especially when she finds a Democratic co-sponsor to work with.

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington is the story of a political novice who discovers her own moral strength as she is manipulated by her staff, bullied by party leaders, and even abandoned by her own friends when she is accused of complicity in a political scandal. Will Mildred be able to keep her integrity and establish her own identity in Washington?

This book is about politics, Congress, and Washington, but it is primarily about the courage of a single woman fighting low expectations, her husband's shadow, and her own self-doubt.

Pubblicato:
Dec 14, 2013
ISBN:
9781310251559
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Jonathan Scott Remington is the pen name of a freelance author who writes fiction and non-fiction, primarily about politics.

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Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington - Jonathan Scott Remington

.

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Jonathan Scott Remington

Copyright 2013 by Jonathan Scott Remington

Smashwords Edition

Chapter 1

Joan Franklin fumbled with the door key while jerking her head away from the congressman’s alcohol-soaked breath. As she reached for the light switch, George Smith steadied himself with the coat rack. He then leaned forward, planted a kiss on her lips, and fumbled for the top button of her silk blouse.

Joan pushed him back. George, please. He stared at her blankly. The open bar at two receptions and a long dinner following a packed day had obviously taken their toll. Without warning, he smirked and grabbed her blouse. She struggled to free herself while he clung to her, partly to stay on his feet. They stumbled into the living room.

She raised her hand and slapped him, then gasped. He recoiled and put his hand to his reddened cheek, looking dazed. He gave a faint smile and dropped onto the couch.

Come here, he said, patting the seat of the couch.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…

Come on. George patted the couch again. His voice sounded strained.

She stood still for a moment. As she had many times before, she was drawn to him. His graying temples and salt and pepper beard made him look distinguished. The wavy hair was sexy. But, she steeled herself and started moving away.

Umm. In a minute, George. Okay? She disappeared into the bathroom.

While the sound of the flushing toilet filled the room, Joan washed her hands and stared at the sink as the cool water swirled down the basin and into the drain. She lifted her head and recoiled from the face looking back at her from the mirror. The features were good, but the pale blue eyes were bloodshot and there were bags under them. Permanent wrinkle lines were forming.

She was tired of being a mistress. So tired. It had been fun… at first. But now….

She pounded the vanity with her fist. This had to end. She would end it. She would. She would tell him. She gritted her teeth. She’d tell him. She’d tell him now.

She gulped and leaned over the sink. Gradually, she straightened her back and reached for the towel hanging by the sink. One more look in the mirror. Her blue eyes stared back at her. She clenched her fists. Then, she sighed and her body relaxed. She dried her hands and stepped out of the bathroom.

George’s eyes lit up as he saw her. A half-crooked smile appeared slowly on his face. He started up from the couch. Suddenly, he fell backwards. The smile on his face dissolved into an ugly grimace. He groaned as he fell to the floor grabbing at his chest.

My chest. It hurts. My chest.

Joan froze. George lurched forward, his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Then, his body relaxed.

Her hand flew to her mouth as she gasped.

Done and done, Bill Denfield said.

Three men, all breathing heavily, stared down at the placid face of their boss, Congressman George Smith, whose body lay sprawled on his bed. It had been no easy task to carry a 220-pound corpse out the door of Joan’s townhouse into the congressman’s car, and then, after what seemed like an eternal drive through nearly deserted Silver Spring, Maryland, and District of Columbia streets, into the congressman’s Capitol Hill condo.

After a short, silent vigil, Bill, the congressman’s chief of staff and a large muscular man with a doughy face, led the way out of the bedroom, down the narrow hallway, and into the small living room, furnished only with a sofa, a love seat, and a rocking chair. Bill smoothed his unruly blond hair.

Okay, let’s go over it again, Bill said.

Weren’t you listening in the car? John Thigpen growled as he paced the room. We went over all this. Bill was taller than his colleague, but John stared him down. Their relationship was not based on position--John was only the legislative director—but on John’s ruthlessness and Bill’s timidity in the face of it. Through intellect and personality, John was one of the two most influential staffers in the office. In fact, the plot they were discussing was John’s idea.

Well, I just need to get it straight, Bill said.

All right. All right, John said. He treaded across the plush beige carpet as he spoke in a staccato style that was unusual for him. I call the police and say I came over here to talk to the congressman about tomorrow’s hearing. I knocked. No answer. I know he should be home. I… I wonder if there’s a problem. I go back to the office, I … I grab the key in the congressman’s desk, and let myself in. I look around and see the body on the bed.

He glanced from one man to the other. They stared at him.

Finally, Andrew Park, the congressman’s communication director, spoke. So, um, where does Joan come in?

She doesn’t, John said. That’s the whole idea. He punched his finger in Andrew’s chest. Bill winced but said nothing. Like I said before, when she called me she was too distraught to think clearly. We had to get her out of the way, quick. John glanced at his watch. She should be boarding the red-eye to LA just about now. She’s going to visit her mother. Her sick mother, okay?

How convenient, Andrew said. But did anyone see them go to her townhouse?

No, Andrew, John said. I’ve already thought of that.

Andrew lowered his head.

She doesn’t think anyone saw them together after they left the office, either, John said. But just in case she’s asked, she’s prepared to say the congressman dropped her off at her townhouse and even walked her to the door. A real Southern gentleman, you know. But then she’ll say he left and she went into her apartment. Any more questions?

Bill and Andrew glanced at each other but said nothing.

Good. You two walk a few blocks, take separate taxis back to the office and then go home. Wait for my call, Bill.

John faced Andrew and wagged a finger in his face. Andrew, you need to act surprised when I tell you the news about the congressman. You don’t want your wife to be suspicious, right?

Andrew snickered. Fool my wife? I’m not good at acting, and she knows it.

Then stay out of sight, John said. Hide in the bathroom for a while, or something. Now, we have one more item of business.

Both men turned to face John.

Mrs. Smith, John said.

Yeah, we already know what her role is, Bill said.

First, you need to call her, John said.

Bill gasped. Why me?

Because she knows you best.

Bill shook his head vigorously. I don’t know her. She’s a cipher--I don’t think anyone really knows her.

Yeah, really. What is she all about? Andrew chimed in as he mimicked a middle-aged woman walking slowly with a purse. She comes in the office and walks around and stares at us.

She looks stupid, Bill said.

Maybe she’s just curious, John said as he walked toward the window and moved the drapes.

And…and then, if the congressman’s not around, she starts asking questions, Andrew said.

You, too? Bill bobbed his head and pointed at Andrew as he spoke.

Yeah. She wants to know what my job is. And which newspapers I work with. And… and twenty questions… all the time.

Have you noticed she even does that with the interns? Bill said. She actually notices them and talks to them. She treats them like they’re important or something.

Andrew shook his head and sneered. Yea, I mean, how stupid can you get?

Bill huffed. And have you noticed what she reads?

Andrew shook his head while John peered out the window and seemed uninterested in Bill and Andrew’s conversation.

One time I saw two books fall out of her purse. I saw them before she stuffed them back in.

Were they about fashion or gardening or something like that? Andrew laughed.

No. Bill waved his arms. I remember one was by David Brooks. And the other was something by C.S. Lewis.

You’re kidding?

No. Can you imagine a woman who looks like she stepped out of Good Housekeeping reading stuff like that?

Ah, they were just for show.

John walked toward them. Okay, enough with Mrs. Smith. Bill, call her right after I call you to tell you the congressman’s dead. John turned to Andrew. At that point you write out a press statement and contact the....

Andrew was staring at the floor.

Hey, are you paying attention? John nearly shouted.

I don’t know, Andrew said. This is serious, John. This isn’t just us or… or even the staff. You want me to lie. You want me to lie to everybody--in public.

Andrew‘s voice became firmer as he spoke. Maybe we shouldn’t have moved him, John. We shouldn’t have. We should have just called the police. We could still do it. It wasn’t like we murdered him or anything. It was just a heart attack.

In his mistress’s apartment, John said, moving closer. Come on, Andrew. Think this through.

He placed his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. Andrew recoiled at the touch.

John ignored the rebuff. If we stick together, there won’t be a problem, Andrew.

No problem? We’ve just committed a felony! We could go to jail, Andrew was shouting. And this is not just anybody. We’re talking a member of Congress here.

Hold it down, John said. You want to wake the neighborhood?

At the word felony, Bill’s face lost its color. Andrew has a point. Maybe we should go to the police.

No way. John whirled around and moved within inches of Bill’s face. We’re all in this now. You helped move him. You’re part of it. You can’t back out now.

I don’t know. I just don’t know. Andrew collapsed on the love seat.

John smiled and sat down next to Andrew. Look, I know this isn’t easy. But think it over. This is the best. Really. Trust me. He settled back on the sofa and looked up at Bill. Think of Mrs. Smith. That sweet lady. What would this do to her if she knew? She’d be devastated. Just destroyed. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

You think she didn’t know? Andrew said as he rose from the couch. Come on. No woman is that blind.

John shrugged. "I don’t know if she knew. She was back in the district and he was here. You just said she was stupid, right?

And what if she doesn’t want to do it? Andrew said, leaning into John’s face. What’s all this for?

John stroked his beard as he spoke. His voice was reassuring. She’ll do it. Once we make the case, she’ll go along. He turned to Bill. And once she goes along, we’ll all be in the driver’s seat.

Bill nodded. John’s right. Without her, Mayor Dash wins. It’s over for us.

Think about it, Andrew, John said. What happens to the education- choice bill now that Smith’s gone? What was all that for?

That’s your baby, John, Andrew said, shaking his head.

John leaned towards him. My baby? It was the congressman’s.

Yeah, you did sell him on it, Bill said. I always wondered, John. Why was Mark Lincoln so involved in it?

John looked startled. What do you mean? He wasn’t involved. You know, he just agreed with the congressman on this one. Families that want out of public schools deserve the chance to get out. Besides, who can pass up the chance to stick it to the teachers’ lobby?

There’s no point talking about it now, Bill said. The bill’s dead.

Oh, no. Not if I can help it, John said. Okay, so we won’t be staff to the chair any more. We won’t be that inside.

All three men spontaneously glanced back toward the hallway. At the end of that hallway was a cooling body stretched out on a bed.

But if we send the right signals to leadership, John continued, we can stay on the committee and have a vote. He stared at Andrew and then back at Bill. A fire engine siren wailed on the street below. The three men jumped at the sound.

Dammit, we don’t have time for this, John said. We have to get out of here.

Andrew slowly pulled himself off the love seat. Bill walked to the door, letting Andrew go first. He gave John a quick glance and mumbled: You’d better be right, John. You’d better be right.

John hurried to the window and watched the two men below on the street. As he waited for them to walk out of sight, he took out his cell phone and punched a number.

It’s done, he said softly.

The male voice on the other end of the line was loud. What a night. This is one hell of a time for Smith to up and die on us.

Yeah, it’s been a long night. From the window John saw Bill and Andrew turn a corner.

You had to do it, John. It was the only way. I’ve got to get in there and save this bill.

You’re right. After all the work of getting those tax breaks for us in the bill and--

That’s what I mean. We’ll make a fortune off those private schools.

Let’s just hope no one notices that only one company qualifies for these breaks, John said.

Hey, what’s wrong with my dad’s construction company getting a break now and again? And you’ll get your share as an officer. And then, John, you can make your own bid for office again some day. Something better than state legislator. You--

Look, I’ve got to make the call to the police now. John hung up and glanced out the window. The street below was empty. He started dialing.

Congressman George Smith’s office looked like a shrine. Each wall was decorated with mementos of a long political career. Frame after frame of a distinguished past. Vietnam War decorations. Plaques and framed certificates of appreciation from organizations that constituted the Who’s Who of the nation’s social and economic right wing: The Fund for a Conservative America, Americans for Decency, the Association of Small Businesses, and on and on.

But the photographs caught the eye. One showed the congressman posing with the national president of the Christian Majority, another with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and another with the British prime minister. And there was George Smith standing at the elbow of the president of the United States.

The congressman’s office exuded power. The large mahogany desk--reportedly once used by past House speakers -- dominated the room. Three sofas formed a semi-circle around the desk.

Every available seat except the congressman’s chair was occupied by a staff member awaiting the arrival of Bill Denfield. The chief of staff always conducted the Wednesday morning staff meeting promptly at 9:00 a.m. It was already 9:15, and he was nowhere in sight. Other staffers began to mutter that neither were the other principal staffers--John Thigpen, Andrew Park, and Joan Franklin. And several wondered out loud what the deputy chief of staff was doing talking on his phone in the hallway. The noise level in the room rose as people glanced at their watches and looked at the office door.

Pierce Clarkson, a somber-looking, tall man in his mid-forties, re-entered the room a few steps and stopped abruptly and slowly placed his phone in his coat pocket. With his wire-rimmed glasses, longish brown hair, and tweed jacket, Pierce looked like central casting’s image of a college professor. He even occasionally smoked a pipe. Usually soft-spoken, Clarkson’s voice this morning was barely above a whisper. Gradually, mouths closed and heads turned to stare. His face was ashen.

The congressman’s dead.

A loud collective gasp rose from the room.

Congressman Smith had a heart attack last night. They took him to GW Medical Center, but he was already dead when they got there.

Oh, God, please no, somebody mumbled. Staffers stared at each other blankly. Two women hugged each other and cried. Another staffer rushed out the door, sobbing into a handkerchief. Then the room became silent for a minute, as if on cue.

What about Mrs. Smith? Does she know? The booming voice belonged to Laura Rutherford, a tall, big-boned woman with close-cropped black hair who was secretary to the chief of staff. Not yet thirty, Laura nevertheless was a commanding, sometimes grating presence in the office.

He’s married? The voice belonged to a male intern.

Of course, he’s married, Laura replied. You’ve met her.

I have?

She came through the office a couple of months ago. Medium height. Long, thin nose. Delicate features. I saw her talking to you.

The intern stared at her. That was his wife? I wondered who she was.

Laura turned back to face Pierce. Back to my ques-

I don’t know, Pierce said. I’m guessing Bill or John did. But I’m not sure.

What does this mean for us? It was the intern again. I mean, like, do we still have jobs?

Others glared at him.

I’m not sure, Pierce said. Bill called the governor this morning to notify him. He was as shocked as we were. The next step is a special election to fill the vacancy. But I don’t know when that...when that happens.

The room was silent again; but only for a moment. Then the questions began.

Where’s Bill now?

Yeah, where’s John?

And… and Andrew. I don’t see him either

Joan’s not here. What’s going on?

Pierce motioned for quiet. Bill, Andrew, and John were at the congressman’s apartment late last night. John was the one who found him. They’ve had a rough night.

And Joan? Laura’s voice boomed out. Where is she, Pierce? .

Joan is on her way to Los Angeles right now, Laura.

Why?

She’s visiting her mother. You know, she’s been ill.

Does she know about the congressman? Laura said.

I don’t know that, Pierce said.

She didn’t say anything yesterday about going away, Laura said. In fact, I remember she was scheduled to make a presentation to the majority leader’s staff at ten this morning. She wouldn’t leave like that. She just wouldn’t.

Pierce shrugged. Maybe her mother took a turn for the worse. I just don’t know.

The meeting broke up. Staffers dribbled out in small groups or alone while others sat in stony silence or wiped tears off their cheeks. Laura fell back on the couch, staring at the ceiling.

Heavy wet snowflakes dropped on the bare heads of the crowd, coating the dresses and suit coats of those standing around an open grave. Some in the crowd briefly ignored the ceremony and peered heavenward at the unexpected snowfall. The weather report for the Washington metro area had predicted a partly cloudy day with highs in the high 40s or low 50s. With the humidity, it felt at least ten degrees colder. The clouds blocked any sign of the sun.

Seated in the middle of a row of chairs was a petite woman of medium height with shoulder-length lightly silvered blond hair, now topped with sprinkles of wet snow. An ankle-length overcoat buttoned tightly at her chin. Her face didn’t show that she was over 60. The faintest of lines touched her forehead and the area around her mouth. Her deep blue eyes, high cheekbones, and slightly upturned mouth revealed a mature but unmistakably attractive woman. Unlike most women, Mildred Smith wanted to look her age. She believed in growing old gracefully, and didn’t want to look like she was resisting it. She had added silver streaks to her blond hair. She wore glasses perhaps more often than she needed to. She used a rowing machine daily and walked three miles a day, but wherever she went she moved gently, cautiously.

As the ceremony continued, Mildred stared straight ahead, her head tilted upward to compensate for any unconscious tendency to bow it. She looked more like another mourner than the widow she now was. That’s also how she felt.

A younger woman to her right abruptly covered her head in her hands and moaned. Mildred smiled, wrapped her right arm around the shoulders of her daughter, Janet, and squeezed. Janet cried softly.

Pastor Dwight Graves of the Harrison Community Church began his sermon. Friends and family of George Barry Smith, he said, we gather here to pay our final respects to a great man who...

As Pastor Graves droned on, Mildred relaxed and sighed. The attention was directed away from her for a few minutes. The words of the preacher registered faintly, somewhere in the back of her head. Somehow, she had willed herself strength to endure this public ceremony for the sake of her husband, and for Janet, who grieved for a father she barely knew.

Mildred hoped no one noticed she wasn’t crying. She quickly glanced around. Nobody was staring at her. Good, she thought.

Why wasn’t she crying? Why was she not sad? He was her husband, after all. They had lived together for thirty-nine years. They’d had a child together.

And now he was gone—hard as that was to believe. Yet, there were no tears. She had cried about George before. She knew she had, hadn’t she? Emotionally, she’d lost him a long time ago. How long ago she couldn’t remember.

George Smith served his country well...

Pastor Graves’ words intruded into her thoughts and redirected them. Yes, George had served. He belonged to the country. He didn’t belong to her. Mildred scanned the horizon of white crosses. She closed her eyes, and she saw George walking with her to a grave on an autumn day over thirty years before.

Mildred, this one looks fresh. It must be one of the last soldiers in the war. As he held Mildred’s hand, George looked down at one of the thousands of crosses spread across the verdant landscape of Arlington National Cemetery.

Mildred looked across the field at the rows and rows of silent white crosses.

George gulped and then spoke. What we did to these boys…

Mildred shook her head. I know, George. It was a mistake. We never should have gone to Vietnam. It was such a costly war-

What! That’s not what I meant, George said as he let go of her hand and put his hands on his hips. We should have bombed them into the stone age.

Mildred touched his shoulder. What good would that have done, George? Just kill more people.

Those people didn’t deserve to live, George spat as he moved away. They killed my friends. They did awful things to people. More than you’ll ever know.

But George-

George’s face reddened. So, you would have let the Communists walk right in and take over.

But, isn’t that what happened? Did our going there stop that from happening? Mildred said, resisting the temptation to raise her voice.

You don’t know what you’re talking about, Mildred. George was shouting now and pointing his finger in her face. I was there. I fought in Nam. I saw people get killed. Where were you?

Mildred was silent. But her mind was whirring. She had opposed the war, although she had never joined the protests. She never believed the domino theory that if Vietnam fell so would the rest of Asia and then the United States.

George pointed at the grave. These boys got betrayed by a government who wouldn’t support them. We should have fought the Viet Cong like we did the Germans or the Japanese. Why we didn’t, I just…

Mildred opened her mouth to speak, but then stopped. Finally, she spoke: I don’t want to argue with you, George.

George looked away and then gradually turned back to face her. You’re just wrong, Mildred.

George turned his back to Mildred. His shoulders sagged. They both stood awkwardly in the silence.

George turned around slowly. His face ashen. I’m sorry, Mildred. I’m sorry. Let’s not talk about politics. Okay? Never. Not ever again. Okay?

If you that’s what you want, George. Her voice was flat. She would keep the agreement for the rest of her marriage, and so would he.

George knelt down and stared at the cross. Mildred looked at her husband and at the grave and then again at her husband and back at the grave. This could have been George’s grave. The thought burst into her head. Her eyes became moist. She wiped away a tear just as it formed.

Okay, she thought to herself. Okay. I’ve made that agreement. But she enjoyed political discussions because they could be intellectually stimulating. But wasn’t this a small price to pay to please George? She wanted to make him happy. What would life be like without him?

If that’s how he wanted it, that’s how it would be. No more political discussions. She knew that meant she would be separated from who he was, what he interested him, what he did. How could he do that to her?

She remembered. That was one day she had cried about

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