This multipart, fictional story is primarily about romance and relationships between men. Any reference to actual persons, living or dead, is only to enhance the fictional nature of the story and does not suggest a particular sexual orientation. Any fictional characters' resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. If you are offended by graphic descriptions of homosexual sex, what the hell are you doing here? Bye, bye.
Special acknowledgements to Drew and Brad for providing diligent proofing and editing of the story.
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Chapter 16, Not Only Leaves Are Falling
"I guess if the pork industry can claim 'the other white meat', we can get behind the Kurds and their 'other Iraq'. The dicey part is trying to figure out how to divide distinct districts that will separate the Sunni and Shiites." Phil was having an off-the-record conversation with Toby McGill from the Vice President's office at the Old Ebbitt Grill as they waited for Jerry Sebastian to join them for lunch. Toby had requested a quiet corner when he made reservations that Wednesday morning.
"Mandy's speech on Labor Day does seem to have traction. In the two days since she delivered it, the buzz has been very positive...at least as positive as Iraq can muster with the public. I can tell you that the Vice President is concerned. And when he's concerned, the President listens."
"Politics aside, our President and..."
"Gentlemen, sorry I'm late. The traffic from Fairfax was really jammed up," Jerry Sebastian said as he pulled back a chair and sat down. He shook hands with Phil and Toby before the waiter stopped by the table. "Maker's Mark Manhattan is fine...up."
"Thanks for coming into town. I know this was short notice." Toby sat back and speared an olive from his martini. ." He was also the chairman of AOI's unlisted advisory board and 'go to' man to officially greenlight special pro bono projects.
"Every time I drive into D.C. I'm thankful that AOI is headquartered in the rolling hills of Virginia near my home."
"The next thing you'll say is that you're a soccer mom on weekends," Phil said before taking a sip of his white wine.
"Maybe not soccer mom, but gardening is very therapeutic." Jerry smiled and winked at Toby.
"Don't get too bucolic on us or we'll feel pressured to dress up in bib overalls on the next occasion," Toby said with a laugh.
"I don't think that Saville Row is into overalls...but I can ask the next time I'm in London."
"Chalk stripes, perhaps? Seriously, I think that this situation about Congressman Stone can be quickly resolved with a game plan... if we all concur." Toby paused and looked around before he continued, "The board is in complete agreement that he needs to be dealt with harshly. Being an alleged predator with underage boys is very serious."
"I asked Dex to call this, um, Dr. Russ Bennett in Chicago yesterday. He had a very comfortable feeling about the doctor. In fact, they plan on getting together for dinner if and when Dex travels out there. The obvious question is how do we get a sample of Stone's DNA for analysis?" Jerry Sebastian was very direct and didn't mince words or time.
"Let's order first and get that out of the way," Toby suggested as the waiter returned. "If you're into 'light,' I suggest salads: either the Steak House or the Grilled Chicken."
The three men ordered Grilled chicken salad and a bottle of pinot grigio. Inconsequential talk about politics measured time until the food and the wine were served. The waiter was told that he shouldn't return to the table.
"To answer your earlier question, I think that it'll be easier than we thought." Phil pulled his chair a little closer to the table. "Stone has been after Mandy this past month for a meeting to discuss legislation that will benefit some contractors in Chicago that support him. I could encourage Mandy to meet with him in our office and make sure the congressman has something to drink...if you get my drift."
"Phil, I think you should have been in my business," Jerry replied. "It'll work if you can obtain whatever Stone drank from without suspicions from either your boss or him."
"The difficult part is having Mandy agree to a meeting. I'm going to suggest a little fence mending and use Barack Obama's possible 2008 presidential candidacy as an excuse. It's a dialogue that the two need to have in that Mandy is weighing a run also. This, um, probably isn't a topic that we should explore at this table any further."
"Phil, I agree, but word that Obama and Mandy are looking at options for 2008 is hardly news in either party. Let's just say that I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting," Toby replied. "Or on Hillary's wall, for that matter."
"Hmm, Not a pretty sight...especially in the bedroom." Phil smiled and lightly patted Toby's forearm and continued, "Back to our, ah, non-partisan conversation. Mandy's schedule this week is pretty light. Let me see if I can make this meeting happen...maybe Friday. The challenge is going to be convincing Mandy to get together with Stone. However, it'll be good copy for the Chicago papers and show her reaching out to the neighboring congressional district concerning a bill that benefits the Southside. And I don't have to point out to Mandy that the Mayor would be pleased."
"It's in your hands...and his DNA. I'll leave it to your discretion on how you gather whatever Stone uses. Just be sure that you touch it - whether it is a cup, glass or bottle - by the bottom and use a Baggie once you get it. Give Dex a call and he'll pick it up. He's ready to come off of his light-duty status. Dex can take the evidence to Chicago and have our lab there work on the DNA match this weekend."
"I'm going to shoot for a Friday morning meeting around ten. Wish me luck, guys. Mandy's going to have to be in a good mood to agree to sit down with that character."
"Character's one thing Stone doesn't have much of," Toby replied.
"How does the song go, 'And Another One Bites The Dust'?" Jerry shook his head and continued, "How do these people get re-elected?"
"In Chicago, I can only imagine." Toby shrugged and took a sip of his wine. "The convicted GOP ex-governor is scheduled to be sent to the 'big house' in January and your current one seems to be involved with a supporter who has kickback problems of his own."
"Innocent until proven guilty...but I get your drift." Phil shrugged and continued, "I am curious about the legality of obtaining DNA from Stone, this way. Would this stand up in court?"
"Splitting hairs...or saliva in this case. The procedure is only to get a sample and see if there's a match. Down the road, police or the F.B.I. will have to get involved...if it comes to that," Toby replied.
"That it may be best to use the evidence as some very strong arm-twisting to convince the congressman to resign. It may be best for the young boy not to be dragged through the court system." Toby paused, cleared his throat and continued in a lower voice, "And it definitely would be best not to expose Dr. Bennett."
"Agreed. When we are at that step, I've got some ideas about how to handle Stone. Let's get the evidence lined up, first," Jerry Sebastian said as he smiled confidently.
The three men were more comfortable exchanging political gossip as they finished lunch. Each was aware of his role in the covert effort.
Phil returned to the Rayburn building and confirmed that Mandy and Joyce Goldstein were free to discuss some ideas. He offered a strong argument that suggested Mandy opening a dialogue with Stone would bode well with her African-American constituents...and with the Congressional Black Caucus. After much debate and discussion, Mandy agreed to meet Stone on Friday at 10:00 a.m., followed by a "Q and A" for the Trib and Sun-Times Washington bureau political writers. Joyce called her counterpart in Stone's office to confirm the appointment and Phil followed up with a courtesy call to the press secretary. It was decided to include The Chicago Defender, a reputable African-American newspaper, into the mix for broader press coverage.
On Friday, Phil spoke with Kyle to review the morning's activities and meeting. He wanted to make sure that Kyle oversaw the setup of coffee, water and soft drinks in Mandy's office. Phil said that he would be in the room to start the dialogue between the two representatives and would leave as soon as Mandy gave him a signal.
Promptly at 10:00 a.m. a short, portly African-American man walked into the reception area. His elegantly draped suit jacket, tailored of Italian silk, did not have a wrinkle or flaw. Phil was aware that Congressman Augustus Stone had all of his suits and shirts custom-made at Richard Bennett's in Chicago's financial district.
"Congressman, welcome to our office," Phil said as he reached out his hand. "I'm Phil Tortello." When they shook hands, Phil couldn't help but notice the multi-carat diamond embedded in the congressman's pinkie ring and the gold Tiffany link bracelet. 'Those trinkets could finance a family of three for a year,' he thought.
"Phil, I remember you. It's been too long a time." Stone flashed the trademark campaign smile and placed his left hand over their gripped right hands. "Marvelous to see you again." The words oozed out with calculated charm.
"Yes, Sir. Mandy is expecting you. The Trib, Sun-Times and Defender reporters will be here at 10:45 a.m." Phil gestured for Stone to proceed past the secretaries and back to the corner office. He was impressed that the congressman personally greeted each staff member in his line of vision as they walked to Mandy's office. 'No one can work a room like this guy,' he thought.
"Gus, welcome to my little world. Please come in," Mandy said as Stone and Phil walked into the office.
"Mandy, your world isn't so small, anymore." Stone repeated his handshaking routine and then leaned in and gave the minority leader a peck on the cheek.
"Maybe in Congress...but we're both still representing Chicago. That's really where our worlds are important. Please be seated and let Phil get you a drink." Mandy had a smile mask plastered on her face as she walked around to her desk chair.
"Sir, we have coffee, soft drinks, water...or, something not so soft," Phil said.
"It's a little early for 'not so soft' and too late for coffee. Just some water, please." Congressman Stone sat down in an armchair across the desk from Mandy.
"Phil, would you give me some water, too?"
"Coming right up." Phil promptly took two glasses and filled them with chilled Poland Spring Water. After placing coasters in front of the two congressmen, he set down the two filled glasses.
"Thanks, Phil." Stone grabbed the glass in his hand and took a long sip of water.
'Yes,' Phil thought as he stepped forward, resisting the urge to clinch his fists. He noticed Mandy nod...just slightly. "I'll leave you two alone until the press arrive." He smiled, exited the office and closed the door.
"You seem to be in a good mood," Kyle said as Phil walked up to his cubicle desk.
"Definitely. It's Friday and we've got a good press opportunity...even if it is with someone like Stone. Give me a 'heads up' when the guys arrive." Phil knew that Kyle understood that 'the guys' were their friends from the working press.
"Will do. By the way, are we still on for Sunday brunch at Annie's? I need to make reservations."
'Mac and I are looking forward to the scrambled eggs, steak and Bloody Mary's. How about 11:00 a.m.?"
"Sounds good. I'll give you a buzz when everyone's here," Kyle replied.
Phil proceeded to his office, sat down and clicked on the email window. 'Should be able to complete this charade in a half-hour,' he thought while he scrolled through the morning's messages. He was in the middle of typing up a staff memo concerning the weekend television interview schedule on all the networks when Kyle came to the door.
"Ah, Phil, the Trib and Sun-Times are here. And the Defender reporter just called from the lobby."
"Thanks, I'll be right out. Get the guys something to drink while I notify Mandy of their arrival." Phil got up from his desk and walked out to the central office area. He avoided the reception area and detoured through the desks to reach Mandy's office. He stood at the door, knocked twice and turned the knob. "The press are here," Phil said as he entered the room.
"Thank you. We're ready for the firing line," Mandy replied with a chuckle.
"They're all friendly. No problem." Phil immediately removed Stone's empty glass in his left hand while grabbing Mandy's glass with his right hand. He nonchalantly put the two glasses on a tray but purposely made sure that Stone's glass was on the left corner. "Would you care for anything else before I allow the guys to come in?"
"I'm fine. Gus, how about you?"
"Maybe a little more water...if you don't mind."
Phil got a fresh glass, poured more water and brought it over to Stone. "I'll bring the men in." He took the tray with the two glasses when he passed the credenza and walked out to the reception area. "Fellows, welcome to our office. Kyle, would you show everyone to Mandy's office? I'll be right there."
"Come on, guys." Kyle got up and beckoned the three reporters to follow him.
Phil walked rapidly to his office, placed the tray with the two glasses on his desk and returned to Mandy's office, just in time to join the reporters and Kyle. He took the lead and introduced the reporters to the congressmen. After everyone shook hands, the reporters sat down and Phil excused himself. By prior agreement, Kyle stayed for the interviews.
When he returned to his office, Phil took the glass on the left corner of the tray by the base, brought it to his desk and placed it in a zip-lock plastic bag. He found a large envelope in his desk, carefully deposited the wrapped glass inside and sealed the flap. 'Mission accomplished,' he thought while he hit Dex's speed dial telephone number.
"Hey, Dex. The deed is done and your package is ready."
~~~ "That's good news. I'll call you when I'm in front of your building. Traffic should be fairly light so give me 30 minutes. If everything goes well, I should be able to get on the 2:00 p.m. Chicago shuttle."
"I'll await your call."
'I guess it's time to earn my salary,' Dex thought wistfully as the pilot announced that they were on the final approach to O'Hare International Airport. He was pleased that Jerry Sebastian had decided to use him as the supervising associate on this 'off the books' case. It felt great to get away from the limited duty, desk-bound paper shuffling.
His instructions were to come into the office on Friday, dressed casually, with an overnight bag. 'Casual' in AOI-speak meant khakis, jacket, open-collar shirt and leather shoes. Dex packed enough clothes to last a couple days for his short trip to Chicago. After receiving a confirming phone call, he drove to D.C., met Phil in front of the Rayburn Building and accepted the sealed envelope containing the used water glass.
"This is a live specimen as of two hours ago," Phil said. "I only touched the base of the glass."
"Great. When I get to the airport, I'll see the security director about bonding the envelope so that no one at one of the check points asks to open it."
"That's a good idea. Oh, let me give you Russ Bennett and Trev Winston's cell numbers...in case you want to contact them."
"Got that covered. When I talked with Russ this morning, we tentatively arranged to get together tonight for dinner. I'm to call them after I arrive in Chicago and know my schedule."
"I think you'll enjoy getting to know Russ and Trev. Good luck, buddy. Here's to having a good time and getting successful results from the lab." Phil patted Dex on the back as the two separated.
Late Friday afternoon passenger foot traffic at O'Hare was at its peak when Dex finally deplaned and spilled out into the busy terminal concourse. He smiled when he saw an African-American man, dressed in similar 'casual' fashion and about the same age, holding up a small placard with "TATE" spelled out in large block letters.
"I'm Tate, Dex Tate." He set down his carry-on suitcase and extended his right hand.
"Dex, Jon Brooks from the Chicago office," Jon said as he shook hands with Dex. "I've got a car and driver waiting on the upper-level if you have no baggage checked in."
"This is all I have. I'll follow you." Dex picked up his carry-on as Jon began navigating a path into the frantic foot traffic. He carefully held the envelope close to his body for fear someone might knock it out of his hand.
"You're booked into the Westin on Michigan Avenue. We'll go there first to get you checked in."
"The AOI offices are across the street from the hotel, aren't they?" Dex was vaguely aware that AOI's Chicago offices were in the neighboring, landmark John Hancock building.
"Yes, but our labs and technical support departments are west of the loop in an old, converted warehouse. That's where we need to get the evidence you're carrying."
"Then why don't we stop off at the lab, hand over the envelope and continue to the hotel? I'm really anxious to have the lab get started on their analysis. Did you meet Dr. Bennett and retrieve his evidence?"
"Accomplished yesterday and it's already in the lab. Sounds like you're a very efficient man...I like your style." Jon smiled as the two young men continued down the concourse.
"I hope that you won't be pissed when I ask you to do something that may spoil your weekend plans."
"Hmmm, I don't have anything going on and you've got my attention. I've been instructed to be of assistance 24/7."
"I appreciate your attitude. Basically, I need you to contact the mother of the boy and establish a relationship. If the DNA is a match, we will need her cooperation to go to the next step. And that will mean permanent relocation outta town."
"I've got the address and telephone number at the office. It's probably best to stop by her apartment, unannounced, this evening."
"Good. That'll be one more piece of the puzzle in place."
They completed the maze of circuitous routes through the busy terminal concourses and finally arrived outside. Dex noticed that policemen were busily directing vehicles to depart immediately after dropping off passengers...except for a black Lincoln Navigator with a driver inside. He smiled when they approached the large SUV. Jon waved at the driver and opened the rear door.
"This is really curbside service," Dex said with a laugh. The door was closed after he slid across the leather seat. Jon opened the front door and joined the driver up front.
"We have special stickers on a few of our cars to permit parking out front at O'Hare. Dex this is Charlie Oates. Charlie, Dex Tate."
"Dex, I'll be assigned to you this weekend." Charlie turned from the driver's seat and, with difficulty, extended his hand.
"Nice to meet you." Dex cautiously shook hands and continued, "I don't know how much time we'll need. I hope to return to Washington either tomorrow or early Sunday."
"Just let me know. The Bears are playing the Packers up at Lambert Field so I have no pressing engagements on Sunday."
"Not even watching the game at Sidetrack's?" Jon asked with a laugh.
"Hey, I'm a single guy...Okay?" Charlie smiled as he slowly merged into the outbound traffic. He waved at the traffic-control policeman when the SUV passed by.
"A single, horny guy," Jon replied.
"I don't know about single but horny is part of the deal at our age," Dex said from the back seat. "I assume that Sidetrack's is a gay bar?"
"With a fun crowd who mix watching sports and meeting guys." Charlie snorted a laugh.
"For your sake, Charlie, I hope that I'm outta here before the game. Perhaps you and the Bears will score." Dex noticed a broad grin on Charlie's face when he looked at the image in the rearview mirror.
For the next 40 minutes the three men small-talked about themselves, AOI and their respective cities before settling into a comfortable silence. The traffic was at a snail's pace and Dex eventually started reading the Chicago Tribune that was on the seat beside him. When they approached the western edge of downtown, Jon pointed out landmarks such as the Sears Tower and Big John - The John Hancock building - before they turned off at the Randolph Street exit.
He was impressed by the clean, recycled cityscape as they drove by the renovated factories and warehouses. What once was the center of early Chicago commerce was now a collage of trendy restaurants, shops, loft condominiums and boutique offices. Even a newcomer like Dex recognized that a big "O" on top of a subtle Harpo Studios sign meant that they were passing Oprah's home base and headquarters. They continued a block further and stopped in front of a clean, restored, weathered-brick, four story building. Only the address numerals in brass and a small sign saying "Authorized Personnel Only' were visible.
"Welcome to our lab." Jon got out of the car and told Charlie, "Give us just a few minutes. Dex has something to drop off."
"I won't be long," Dex said to Charlie as he opened the rear door. "I'll know more about my schedule when I get back."
Dex joined Jon as they approached a large, heavy wood door that framed dark tinted glass. On either side of the entry were large, patina-tinged, copper carriage lamps. Jon pressed his fingers on a small pad next to the door. Within seconds, the lock tripped and Jon pulled the door open. Inside, a tall, middle-aged man wearing a white lab coat welcomed them. Dex noticed that they had entered an environment not unlike a modern, sterile hospital.
"Jon, welcome to Siberia," the man said with a laugh. "You must be Dex Tate? I'm the guy assigned to analyze the DNA samples. Tim Dubois."
"Tim, here's the evidence that you'll need. And you already have the samples of the swabs from the victim and his clothes, I understand?" Dex asked as he shook hands.
"Yes, the doctor was quite careful the way everything was handled. And he still has ample sealed samples available if we are challenged."
"I assume that your lab will be closing shortly?" Dex noticed that a clock on the wall indicated that it was approaching 5:00 p.m.
"Not at all. First, this is a priority from Fairfax. Number two, my partner is in the restaurant business and we rarely see each other on weekend nights. I plan on working on this for a couple of hours tonight and might be able to finish the analysis. In any case, why don't we plan on re-grouping here in the morning...say, around ten?"
"That's fine. If you have anything to pass on tonight, please give me a call on my cell. I'm having dinner with Dr. Bennett and his partner." Dex gave Tim and Jon business cards. "I'll be available at any point in the evening."
"And I'll plan on picking you up at the hotel tomorrow so we can return to the lab," Jon added. "If you like, I could give you a short tour of the labs and our computer department setup."
"I'd like that. I'm sure we'll all be working on other projects in the future and knowing more about your facilities will be an advantage. And hopefully you'll have some news from meeting the mother."
"If she doesn't throw me out on my butt."
"Jon, I have confidence that if anyone can get this woman on our side, you can do it."
Russ smiled as he entered the living room. He was bearing a tray with three large snifters containing a small portion of dark, amber liquid at the bottom of each balloon-shaped glass. "I think you'll enjoy this cognac," he said as he set down a snifter in front of Dex. The three men had just finished a simple dinner of steak and grilled vegetables at Russ and Trev's condo.
"I'm not experienced in the nuances of cognac," Dex replied. He waited until Russ was seated before he took the snifter, slipped his hand under the bowl, swirled the contents slightly and brought it to his nose. "However, I know it's not Christian Brothers." He inhaled and smiled.
"Trev and I have had fun exploring wines and after dinner spirits since we got together. I didn't know squat about this until I ran into this gentleman." Russ raised his snifter, saluted his guest and duplicated the time-honored ritual of savoring liquid gold. "Trev's my own personal Southern Comfort."
"I had a job in Memphis where I came in contact with older business men quite frequently," Trev added. "Business dinners that I was required to attend were a great learning experience...the proper fork, the right wine glass, vintages, um, you know, stuff like that. I had one, ah, mentor that took the time to show me the difference between a decent brandy and an elegant cognac like Hine Triomphe. That's what we're drinking tonight."
"Trev and I joined up with a group of guys...kind of a gay gourmet club...about six years ago. Nothing too pretentious, and very informal. In fact, a couple of friends of Phil's are members. Speaking of which, I can't believe that we've lucked out meeting nice guys from Washington - two weeks in a row."
"Phil said the same thing and insisted that I call you when he found out I'd be coming to Chicago. He and Mac returned feeling very upbeat about meeting you guys." Dex felt his cell phone vibrating on the silent incoming call signal and reached into his pocket. "Excuse me...this might be important." He flipped open the cell unit and pushed the 'on' button with his thumb. "Tate speaking."
~~~ "Dex, I hope it's not too late and I didn't disturb you," said Tim Dubois.
"Actually, I'm just finishing dinner with friends. It's, um, only about 9:00 p.m. Whatchu got?" Dex looked over to Russ and raised his brow.
~~~ "Based on the swab sample from Dr. Bennett and the saliva from the glass, I can positively match the DNA in the 99.99 percentile possibility factor."
"So it's conclusive? It'll stand up in court?"
~~~ "Whoever the suspect is will be found guilty."
"Excellent. If you will email these results to Fairfax, that'll start the process. And I'll be at your lab with Jon at 10:00 a.m."
~~~ "See you guys then. Bye, bye."
"Well, gentlemen, I think we can now officially offer a toast with this excellent cognac." Dex waited until his two hosts raised their snifters with his. "Russ, thanks to you we're going to deal with the bastard that raped the young boy. Let's just take a small sip in celebration." They all clinked their snifters and slowly took a sip of the Grande Champagne, vintage cognac.
"So, what happens now?" Russ asked after he set down the snifter.
"I mentioned earlier that I'm not connected with the government...in any way. AOI was asked to investigate this situation and present the evidence to the client. You know that Phil is part of the process but I'm afraid that I can't say too much more."
"But it sounds like Phil has the ear of some real heavy duty decision makers?" Trev asked thoughtfully.
"Heavy duty? Yes, definitely. And this is a non-partisan issue. The group I represent believes the government has no place for child molesters - gay or straight, GOP or Democrat. I will tell you that Mandy Burns is not yet aware of this crime. Several factors have to be in place, first."
"The DNA match for openers. And you know Chicago politics better than I. We need a complete game plan that includes protecting the boy and his mother. Then, there are the other characters such as the alderman and the police lieutenant that will be dealt with. At some point, the mayor will have to be brought into the process. It's a complex mosaic."
"But this isn't going to be swept under the carpet, is it? That's normally what happens in Chicago," Russ said. "I'd hate to see that character go unpunished."
"Russ, I can't pinpoint when everything will go down and punishment has certain variables."
"Ah, the messiness and meanness of a trial may be damaging to the boy. We might be able to accomplish the 'end' with a choice of 'means' at our disposal."
"And the end will justify the means?" Russ asked.
"Basically, yes. It's about two months before elections but I can promise you that it'll be an interesting time. I suspect that you'll be seeing some very relevant headlines in the Trib and Sun-Times by the end of the month."
"Trev and I have pledged that we will keep this secret. I get the feeling, Dex, that you and the people you represent can make a difference. That's all I ask."
"Don't worry, it'll be handled. But enough of this cloak and dagger stuff...when are you going to have an opportunity to travel out to our nation's capital? I really want Kyle to meet you guys. Springtime in the District is beautiful."
"You know we're going out to California at Christmas time and will meet up with Phil and Mac. Next spring would be a great time to visit Washington. What do you think, Hon?" Russ turned to Trev and slipped his hand on Trev's arm.
"I'm easy. As long as our Visa cards hold out...within reason...it sounds like we might be seeing the cherry blossoms next spring."
TO BE CONTINUED