SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to continue reading it: https://cafepalermoannex.wordpress.com. This chapter continues the previous chapter by explaining how Nolan and Josh ended up in Washington. We’ll also learn more about Nolan, his job, his boss, and his aspirations. Before I post Chapter 40 next week, you may want to review Chapter 37, especially how things were left at the end; or, at the very least, the summary of Chapter 37 you can find here. Doing that will refresh your memory before we begin to find out more about what Tommy and Andy are up to. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 38, Josh and Nolan reappear in the story. They are living in Washington now after graduating from Williams College. While Josh tries to find something to wear to work, Nolan recalls some of the challenges the two faced at Williams. There had been the challenge of learning how to live with someone else and troubles with their friends accepting them as a couple. There had been the dark cloud that descended over Josh periodically, one that only gradually dissipated; and there had been the boy who almost succeeded in seducing Nolan. Together, Nolan and Josh had surmounted these challenges. Then, when the President had decided to escalate the U.S. commitment to Burkistan, Josh had joined the anti-war movement on campus. Still later he had volunteered to work for Ohio Governor Anne Henderson Clay, who was running for President. Clay was calling for a reassessment of U.S. policy toward Burkistan and had said she would have voted for an amendment cutting off funding for the war if she had been in Congress. Unfortunately, his involvement in the campaign had started to take a toll on Josh’s grades. In an effort to make sure the two graduated together, Nolan had agreed to join the Clay campaign in exchange for Josh’s pledge to scale back his own involvement and to focus more on his studies. Just before the decisive primary in New York, Nolan had volunteered to edit a statement about the war for the Governor. Under pressure, he had succeeded in cutting it down to size and the Governor had gone on to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
Our graduation ceremony took place a few days later in Williamstown and was a happy occasion for both of us because Josh and I were sharing it together. Our parents were there as well and they made a big deal about the whole thing like parents always do. I remember being embarrassed about that and I’m sure Josh must have felt exactly the same way. But graduation is for parents after all so it was just something the two of us had to put up with.
By then I had been accepted at Harvard Law and was planning to go there that fall. Even though I had been accepted at a couple of other law schools, it wasn’t like I had much choice in the matter. My father had gone to Harvard Law and there was no way I could go anywhere else once I got accepted at Harvard.
Just like I wanted, Josh was planning to come along with me. He had been papering Cambridge and the surrounding communities with his resume, looking for a job as a teacher. Having Josh with me at Harvard was the thing I cared about most.
I was sitting around the apartment the two of us shared in Williamstown about a week after graduation when the phone rang. I picked it up.
“Nolan?” the voice on the other end of the line asked. “Is that you, son?”
I remembered the voice. It was Harlen.
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s me, Mr. Lane.”
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad you’re there.”
“You just stay in your room there, son,” he commanded. “There’s a young man who’ll be knocking on your door shortly. He has a limo that’s going to take you to Albany and tickets for your flight to Washington. Someone will meet you at the airport here and bring you over to our national headquarters, Nolan. We’ll talk again when you get here, son, but for now you best get packing your bag because the limo will be there shortly.”
Then he abruptly hung up.
What the hell is this all about? I recall wondering.
But I was curious as well so I decided to find out why Harlen had called.
I barely had time to pack some clothes and scribble a note to Josh before the limo arrived. By 4 p.m. that afternoon I was at the national headquarters of the Clay campaign. When I arrived, a woman ushered me into Mr. Lane’s office. He wasn’t there, but showed up a couple of minutes later and got straight to the point.
“I need you to do more editing for me, son, just like you did on that statement up in Albany. You did really well on that statement. You’ll be starting tomorrow and be paid at an annual rate of $75,000 up through the election in November. We’ll reconsider things after that. I’ve managed to get an advance on your salary so you can find yourself a place to stay for the duration. Our admin staff will help you out with that. They also have the papers you’ll need to sign to get on board officially. See you tomorrow, Nolan.”
I was stunned. As I stood up to leave, I started to utter a protest.
“But, Mr. Lane, umm; I, umm, well, I mean, I’m going to, umm . . . .”
“Harvard can wait, son,” he interjected, without even looking up. “And, yes, we have a position here for that friend of yours too, that boy named Josh. People never believe it, but there really was a time when I was young and in love myself,” he added, looking up and staring directly at me.
I wondered how he could have known about Josh and me.
I called Josh to discuss it with him that evening. Both of us agreed we should take the jobs we were being offered even though neither of us had a clue as to exactly what we would be doing. Whatever the outcome of the election, I could always start Harvard in January.
Knowing Josh would be with me in Washington was the last thing I needed to seal the deal; and he was glad to be there too because he desperately wanted Clay to win and it wasn’t like helping in Massachusetts was going to make very much difference. Everyone knew we were going to carry Massachusetts. It was the rest of the country where the campaign was going to be won or lost.
It was close, very close in fact, but Governor Clay did win the election, mostly because the economy seemed to be getting worse every day and people didn’t think the President had a plan for dealing with that. Two days later Harlen offered me a job in the Administration.
I had agonized over the job offer at first. I figured my Dad would be upset if I decided to pass up Harvard Law. But the job was just too good to pass up and even my Dad knew that. Yeah, sure, he had been disappointed when I decided to support Governor Clay over the President. But when I told him about the job offer, I could tell he was proud of me.
“That’s terrific, Nolan,” he had said. “Chances like that don’t come along every day. You should take it. Law school can wait.”
So that’s how the two of us ended up in Washington; and here I was now, dropping Josh off at the school he was teaching at and pointing my car west toward the White House. I finally got into the office around 7:50 a.m. and saw right away there were messages waiting for me on my phone.
Just one message actually, from Harlen, and it was clear right away he wasn’t a happy camper that morning.
“Nolan?” he shouted, as if he was expecting me to pick up. “Are you there, boy? Oh, hell, of course you’re not there, Nolan. Why would you be? It’s only 7:05 a.m. You never get in that early, do you Nolan, even though I’ve told you a million times to have that ass of yours in that chair by 7 a.m. But do you listen to me? Hell, no! You never listen to me, Nolan.”
“Well, no matter, I suppose,” the recording continued. “It’s not like I don’t have all day to sit around here waiting for you to get in. Take your time, boy. Go have a nice breakfast at the White House Mess. Chat up the folks over there. But when you think you’re ready to do some work, drag that sorry ass of yours over to my office. I need to see you, son.”
Oh, God, I remember thinking? What have I done now? Harlen was always like this when I screwed up, which was almost all of the time. Why did I let it bother me so much?
But I knew why.
Harlen Lane was a living legend, the guy who single-handedly got the votes to break the Southern filibuster of the civil rights bill more than half a century ago when nobody said it could be done. He was also the guy who had gotten the votes to pass the Panama Canal Treaty for Jimmy Carter when that appeared doomed as well.
Every Democratic President had courted the guy to join their administration ever since. He knew where every skeleton in Washington was buried and carried around so many outstanding IOUs that people didn’t even try to resist when he asked for their vote, at least that’s what everyone said.
It had always seemed strange that someone like that would be interested in a nobody like me, but for some reason he was. During the campaign he would call me in toward the end of the day and go over everything important that had happened that day, asking me what I would have done if I had been making the decisions. And when he was done doing that, he would trot out some of his war stories from years gone by.
It was fascinating, of course, and I was happy to just sit there and listen. You learned a lot about Washington just by listening to the guy talk. It only dawned on me slowly that Harlen had somehow become aware of his mortality and had decided I was going to be the one to carry on his legacy. It had come as a real surprise because it seemed to me there were so many others who were much better qualified to do that. But Harlen had chosen me and it was flattering, no doubt about it; and I had to admit there was a part of me that wanted it, wanted it a lot in fact.
I had always been interested in politics, even when I was little. What I had rebelled against was my father’s efforts to manage my life. Even when I was young, I knew my own political judgment was better than my father’s. But this was different, after all; this was Harlen Lane we were talking about. The man knew everything there was to know about politics and was offering me the chance of a lifetime.
People were surprised when he took the job as President Clay’s Director of Legislative Affairs. He had held that position years before and Washington was never a town all that keen on second acts. But he was devoted to the President for some reason I never understood. He admired her more than any of the rest of us and had supported her from day one when it wasn’t the smartest thing to do politically. His influence with her extended far beyond the legislative affairs portfolio, moreover. Everyone knew he was the President’s closest adviser on just about everything else as well.
Like I said, given all of that, I had never understood why he was so interested in me. I mean, give me a break! Who was I? I hadn’t been a supporter of the President originally. I could have cared less, at least at first. Josh was the one who had been the Governor’s biggest supporter. He believed she was going to end the U.S. military presence in North Burkistan. I had only joined up under duress.
I had tried to explain all of this to Harlen when he called me into his office and offered me the job. That it was really Josh who had put in all the time and effort and he was one who should get a job in the Administration, not me. But Harlen wouldn’t listen. He was determined to make me the Deputy Assistant Director for Legislative Affairs (House) on the White House staff and he did.
“I’m not ready for this, sir,” I had protested. “Hell, I don’t even know what the job you’re offering me is all about.”
“You’ll learn, son,” he had responded. “Mostly you’ll be reviewing what other people do and deciding what needs to go up the chain of command, at least at first.”
So I took the job and had regretted it ever since. Oh, yeah, sure, the title looked great on my resume. It got me a parking space not all that far from the White House. People who just looked at the title thought I was some kind of big shot. But no one who knew anything really believed that, of course.
While the title made me the number two in our section, none of the other guys who worked there took me seriously. All of them had worked on the Hill for years. No way were they going to take some snot-faced kid right out of college in that job seriously.
Josh hadn’t been mad when I got the job, of course. He wasn’t really interested in working for the Administration. All he wanted to do was teach. So he had gotten himself a job doing just that at some high school in the far reaches of Capitol Hill.
That scared me. I mean, for crying out loud, everybody knew those D.C. schools were dangerous. What possible difference could Josh make? I didn’t want to get a call one day telling me one of his students had knifed him. I pleaded with him not to take the job. I told him how much money I would be making and how I could support the two of us until he found a job out in Montgomery County. He just laughed at me and told me not to worry so much.
But I couldn’t help worrying. I still loved Josh as much as the first day we had met.
So here I was, wondering what Harlen wanted now. I mean, for Christ’s sake, technically Harlen wasn’t even my boss. He was my boss’ boss. If he was so disappointed in me, why didn’t he mention it to my boss? But Harlen wasn’t much for the chain of command and I already knew he held my boss in minimal high regard.
I headed over to his office right away. There was going to be hell to pay, that was for sure, but I might as well face the music sooner rather than later. When I got there, his secretary just looked through me as if I didn’t exist. She had been with him forever and didn’t even try to disguise the contempt she felt for me. You could tell just by looking at her what she thought of you. I tried not to take it personally; she felt pretty much the same about everyone else.
But she was a professional like Harlen so she just buzzed him and announced I was there, then told me I could go in.
“Well, good morning, Nolan,” Harlen said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “I am so delighted you can join us here in the White House this morning; so delighted. Now Nolan I don’t want you to overwork your mind on this or anything so early in the morning, but I do have a question, son. Could you please tell me what the hell is going on over there in your shop?”
“Umm, well, I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking, Mr. Lane,” I replied. “I mean, it’s a pretty open ended question, sir. Could you give me a hint?” I asked, smiling at him.
Usually he liked it when I smiled at him.
“Well, now, let’s think about this,” he replied, stroking his chin. “The last time I checked you were the Deputy Assistant Director for House Legislative Affairs. Has that changed since the last time we talked, son?”
“No sir,” I replied.
“Oh, good, I’m glad to hear that,” Harlen said.
The man was impossible when he was in a mood like this so I just sat there silently. He would get to his point when he wanted to, not any sooner, not any later.
“So perhaps you could tell me something about what your shop is working on these days?” he continued.
“Well, sir, we’re not working on anything special at the moment, at least as far as I can tell. I mean, it’s only May; and from what Mr. Thomas tells me, the House really doesn’t get very busy until June. But perhaps Mr. Thomas could fill you in better on that, sir.”
Jim Thomas was my boss. He reported directly to Harlen and Harlen didn’t have any respect for the man at all. I didn’t really know why or why he had put him in the job for that matter given his opinion of the guy. It was only later that I figured that out.
“I rather doubt that, son,” Harlen replied. “I rather doubt that idiot could fill me in on anything. So I guess there’s nothing important coming up in the House we need to be thinking about then?” he asked, looking directly at me. “Nothing the President would be interested in?”
“Not really, sir, at least as best I can tell,” I replied, relieved. “It’s pretty dead over there right now from what I can tell.”
“Anything going on in committee perhaps, Nolan?” he continued.
“Umm, well, there are a lot of things going on in the different committees,” I said, warily. “Did you have any particular committee in mind, sir?”
“Oh, I don’t know, son,” Harlen replied. “Let’s just pick one kind of randomly. Maybe we could start alphabetically; how about the Appropriations Committee. Is anything happening there?”
He was being really sarcastic, of course, and I was tempted to tell him that Agriculture came before Appropriations. But I didn’t think he would react very well if I pointed that out to him right then.
“Yes, sir,” I replied, beaming.
I had just read the weekly summary the staff had put together the previous day so I knew I had something to report.
“The committee reported the supplemental the President sent up in February to the floor last week. It was a pretty routine vote, sir. Nothing special there as far as I know,” I added.
“For Christ’s sake, Nolan, tell me what’s going on in the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee,” he finally erupted, throwing his hands up in the air.
There it was, on the table at last. I finally had a clue what he was interested in. Unfortunately, I only had the vaguest idea what was going on in that particular subcommittee.
“There’s not too much going on, sir, at least from what I’ve heard,” I replied, cautiously. “I think they’re going to consider the defense appropriations bill next week. Or was it the week after next? I’m not sure which. But there’s nothing very controversial about that as far as I know. Even the Republicans are pretty much on board. At our staff meeting last Friday, Timmy reported there were really no outstanding issues, sir. He expected the vote to report it to be close to unanimous.”
“And then what’s going to happen, Nolan?” Harlen pressed.
“And then it will go the full committee, sir, and eventually to the floor for consideration,” I replied.
“And what about the McPherson amendment, son?” he asked. “When do you expect that to come up?”
The McPherson amendment? I remember asking myself. What the hell is the McPherson amendment? I had never heard of the McPherson amendment.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I replied. “I haven’t heard anything about a McPherson amendment. Is that an amendment being offered by Representative Bill McPherson or Representative John McPherson? I always get those two confused.”
I was hoping he would be impressed that at least I knew there were two members of the House named McPherson. But Harlen just slapped his forehead with his palm. Hard. It made a really loud sound. Then he just sighed and looked over at me.
“The McPherson amendment is Congressman John H. “Happy Jack” McPherson’s proposal to cut off funding for the war in North Burkistan, Nolan. Do you happen to know how many votes it got last year when it was considered by the House?” he asked, softly this time.
“No sir, I don’t,” I replied.
“It got 178 votes, son. And if what I’m hearing is right, it’s going to get more this year, Nolan, a lot more. But you wouldn’t know that, would you, son? Nor would that dumb fuck boss of yours either, I suppose, because he never gets up to the Hill. How would he know? He’s totally clueless, just like you, and he’s been in this town almost as long as me.”
“Now I can forgive you for being clueless, Nolan,” he continued, “and you know why that is, son?”
“No sir,” I replied, meekly.
“Because you’re a naïf, son,” he answered, “that’s why. Naïf is a fancy French word for naive or inexperienced, but you probably know that already, I suppose, given that fancy education of yours.”
“But we’re going to change that, son,” he continued. “We’re going to help you overcome being a naïf. And I realize that takes time, son, it really does here in Washington. But here’s the bottom line, Nolan. Is the McPherson amendment going to pass the House when Happy Jack offers it?”
“I don’t know, sir,” I replied, totally embarrassed by just how little I knew.
“I find it hard to believe the House would cut off funding for the war, sir. The President has made a very persuasive case for our continued presence, I think. I was just reading her latest statement on the matter last week, sir. It was very compelling, I think, and quite courageous as well. I mean, it must have been very hard for her to change her mind after that reassessment of U.S. policy in North Burkistan she ordered was completed, sir. It surprised me when she decided to keep our troops there, but I’m sure she had a good reason for that. So no, I’m not really sure what will happen, but I just don’t see how the House would do something like cutting off funding after all the thought the President has put into this.”
“Well, thank you, Nolan, I’m so glad to hear that the President can count on your support,” Harlen replied, smirking at me. “I’ll be happy to tell her that when I see her later this morning. But, you see, I’m not at all certain that a majority of the House will find her statement as compelling as you did, son. I rather suspect we could lose. In fact, I’m pretty damn certain the amendment would pass if the House had to vote on it today.”
I remember being shocked by that. We had never even discussed the amendment in our section meetings, let alone the possibility it could pass.
“Well, I realize that wouldn’t be good, sir,” I said. “I know that. But surely the Senate would never pass an amendment like that, would they, sir? And even if they did, of course, the President could veto the bill. I don’t see much chance of that amendment ever becoming law, Mr. Lane. Do you?”
“Nolan, have you ever heard the term political capital?” Harlen asked me. “Do you know what it means?”
“Not really, sir, no,” I replied, squirming even more in my chair and staring down at my shoes. “I mean, yes, I’ve heard the term before, but I don’t really know what it means exactly.”
“Political capital is something you earn in different ways, Nolan,” Harlen responded; and I could tell I was in for another one of his little tutorials.
“For example, you can earn political capital by winning an election, just like the President did last fall. And once you earn it, you get to spend it, son, on things that are important to you. Like, for example, on those changes to Medicare the President just asked Congress to approve.”
I nodded, indicating I understood what he was saying.
“But, the thing is, you can never have enough political capital if you’re the President of the United States, Nolan,” he continued; “because, unlike most Congressmen and Senators, who are usually only interested in one or two things, Presidents have to be interested in lots of things. Understood?”
I nodded again.
“So a President has to hoard political capital, son, to maximize what he can get for it. The President can’t afford to squander political capital. And do you know how you lose political capital, Nolan?”
“Um, well, uh, I’m not really sure, sir,” I replied, knowing full well Harlen was about to tell me.
“You lose political capital by losing on votes that are important, son,” he said. “Votes like the McPherson amendment. Because once people in this town see the President can be beaten on something as important as funding for the war in North Burkistan, then everybody begins to think they can beat the President on all the issues that are near and dear to them too.”
“And pretty soon the President has no political capital left and those bastards on Capitol Hill will start pecking him to death; or, in our case, pecking her to death. And, poof, just like that, all the wonderful things the President wants to get done are down the tubes, son. Gone. Dead as a doornail. Just like that, in the blink of an eye; and all because the President couldn’t even win a lousy vote on funding the war in North Burkistan.”
“Do you get it now, Nolan?” he asked. “Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
“Yes sir, I do,” I responded, glancing down at my shoes again. I felt really bad about being so ignorant, about not being any help to the President at all.
“Good, Nolan,” he replied. “I’m glad you do. Because I need you to do something for me so the President doesn’t lose when the House takes up the McPherson amendment.”
“What, sir?” I asked. “I’ll do anything. I really will.”
“Do you know who John Neilson is?” Harlen asked.
I had heard the name before, but I didn’t know anything about the guy.
“No, sir, I don’t,” I replied.
“John is one of the President’s most loyal supporters, Nolan, if not her most loyal supporter. They’ve been friends all their lives, ever since they grew up together in Columbus. John made his fortune in electronics and has spent several fortunes helping the President throughout her political career. He practically financed her first run for Governor of Ohio by himself because no one thought she had a chance in hell to win. But she did, mostly because she was able to get her message out thanks to John.”
“Now some people say John has always been in love with her,” Harlen continued, “and I can’t really comment on that. But what I do know is that John has never asked the President for one single favor in all the years he has known her. Not one, Nolan. The man has always been just totally committed to the President without ever seeking any special advantage for himself.”
“It must be wonderful to have a supporter like that, sir,” I replied.
“It is, Nolan,” he responded. “It surely is. Now I was talking to John about two weeks ago, explaining to him my concern about the McPherson amendment, how it might actually pass this year and how that would cripple the President. Just cripple her something awful. Well I never thought anything more about it, of course, and then I got a call yesterday out of the blue from John. And it turns out John, being such a loyal supporter and being so dedicated to the President, well John had gone out and hired The Brennon Group. Have you ever heard of The Brennon Group, son?”
“No,” I replied, sighing. “I haven’t.”
It was discouraging just how little I knew.
“Well, actually I’m not surprised about that, Nolan,” he responded. “The Brennon Group is an investigative firm created about ten years ago by Bill Brennon. Now Bill is a most interesting character, most interesting indeed, son, a former CIA operative with a long and illustrious career. Some people say he was single handedly responsible for forcing the Soviets out of Afghanistan.”
“I don’t believe that myself,” he continued, “but the man did live in those mountains for years, rallying the opposition to the Russkies. In any event, Bill formed The Brennon Group after he retired from the CIA. They do all kinds of investigative work, including for our government at times. And Bill, being former CIA, well, the man just hates publicity, hates it with a passion; so not too many folks really know about him or his firm.”
“In any event, it turns out John hired The Brennon Group to do some research on the McPherson amendment and those supporting it,” he said, “at least that’s what he told me over the phone yesterday. Happy Jack, of course, and I could have told him that was a waste of time since the man is a saint, but some of the others as well. So John called me and told me about all of this. He hasn’t seen the report, of course, and has no interest in seeing it. But he says Bill told him there was some information in that report that might be of interest to the White House.”
“Really,” I said.
“Yep, that’s what he told John,” Harlen added. “But, of course, I had to tell John we couldn’t be looking at that report over here at the White House when it’s finished. That there was no way in hell the President would have approved of this investigation if she knew that was what John was going to do. Like I said, I told him the White House couldn’t possibly have its fingers on this, and he said that he understood and such. So he asked me what he should do about that report and I told him I didn’t really know, but perhaps it was something the Democratic National Committee might be interested in because I know they’re interested in helping us defeat the McPherson amendment.”
“The long and short of it is this, Nolan,” he said. “Curtis Silber, the chairman of the DNC, asked me the other day whether I could detail someone over there to help them get organized to fight the McPherson amendment and I said we could. And that’s where you come in, Nolan. You’ll be getting a letter within the hour detailing you to the Democratic National Committee in a response to a request from Curtis. You’ll be managing the Committee’s efforts to defeat the McPherson amendment.”
“You may also be getting a call at some point from Bill Brennon,” he continued. “He may want to talk to you about what he found out while doing that investigation for John. It would probably be a good idea if you sat down with him, son; if he calls, that is. I don’t know that he will, of course. But if he does, we need someone to listen to what he has to say and to treat it accordingly. Do you understand?”
“Sure,” I replied. “I understand.”
And by then it was becoming a little clearer to me.
“Good,” Harlen said. “Now it might be sensitive, of course, whatever’s in that report; and he would only be sharing it with you, not with Curtis, of course. You couldn’t share it with anyone over here at the White House or at the DNC or with anyone else for that matter. But who knows? Depending upon what Bill finds out, there might be something worth sharing with the press, I suppose. The Post has a reporter named Robin Gomez who just loves breaking those human interest kinds of stories. Do you get my drift here, Nolan, or do I have to say more?”
“No, sir,” I responded. “I get your drift, at least I think I do. Sir, I’m not sure I really understand all of this yet. It sounds like you’re firing me, or effectively firing me, by moving me out of the White House over to the DNC. And if you want my resignation, you can have it, sir. I know I’m not really cut out for all of this.”
“Now you just stop right there, Nolan,” Harlen said. “I brought you in here not because I expected you to know what you were doing right away, but because I thought you would be good at this kind of political work with a little seasoning. And I still think that, son. I think you have a lot of potential, Nolan. I really do.”
“But we can’t have an operation like this leading back to the White House; and we can’t trust it to just anyone either. So this is your chance to show you can be a player in this town, Nolan. And it’s definitely a big chance. I hope you realize that, son.”
“Now, if you don’t want to do it, fine,” he continued, looking over at me. “Just tell me. I’ll find another way to get it done. But if you’re willing to take it on, I trust you’ll figure it out pretty easily and will do just fine. But if you do take it on, you’re on your own with this, Nolan. We never had this conversation and we probably won’t be talking again between now and the time the amendment comes up. Like I said, this would be your operation entirely and you’ll need to use your best judgment because everything will be your call. Is it something you want to take on?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “I do. And I’ll do my very best.”
“Great, son, I know you will, Nolan,” Harlen replied, “because there’s a lot at stake for the President.”
“Well, then, you best be going now, getting your things together at the office,” he continued. “And, Nolan, the other thing is this detail is only until we finish up this effort against the amendment. After that, you’ll be coming back over here and who knows? If people appreciate your efforts, there could be a promotion in it for you, a really big promotion. That’s the way things work in Washington, son.”
I stood up and began to walk toward the door.
“Oh, and two other thing, Nolan,” Harlen said.
I turned around and looked back at him.
“First off, timing is important here, son. Everyone understands that. John does. Bill does. And you need to understand that to. Because we don’t know exactly when the bill will hit the floor so we need to time whatever we do carefully. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“And the other thing is this needs to be clean, Nolan,” he added. “It can’t be messy.”
“I understand, sir,” I replied.
But the truth is I was a lot less certain about that.
What does he mean, clean? I asked myself. I wasn’t really sure, but I thought maybe I would understand better later on.
As I walked back to my office, I tried to sort it all out in my head. It seemed kind of confusing right about then. Why was Harlen talking about a promotion? I wondered whether it had something to do with the way he felt about my boss, Mr. Thomas. And why would he trust me with something this sensitive and important given how little I knew?
About the only thing I knew for sure was Harlen was counting on me and this was going to be the biggest final exam I had ever taken in my life; and while I didn’t have a lot of time to figure it all out right then, I knew this was the chance I had been waiting for and was determined to ace that exam.
I wanted to be a player. I wanted to be someone important like Harlen and that’s all I needed to know. By then all of the ambivalence I had been feeling about the job was gone. It was time to show Harlen he hadn’t been wrong about me.
Twenty minutes after I got back to my office the letter arrived detailing me to the DNC. I was over there by 10 and had the authorization I needed to sign checks by noon.