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. In this chapter you’ll find out more about how Nolan deals with the dilemma he faces and how that affects his relationship with Josh. Before I post the next chapter, you may want to review Chapter 41, especially how things were left at the end; or, at the very least, the summary of Chapter 41 you can find here. We’ll be shifting the focus back to Tommy and Andy next week and reviewing what happened in Chapter 41 should help refresh your memory. 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 email@example.com. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 42, Nolan begins his detail to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by bringing himself up to speed on the McPherson amendment. He spends time at the Library of Congress reviewing past debates over the amendment in the Congressional Record. Although he ends up admiring Congressman McPherson, he also believes the President is sincere and deserves flexibility when it comes to the war. Nolan identifies the main arguments for and against the amendment. Then he begins organizing volunteers and staff at the DNC to defeat it. He meets with a former CIA operative named Bill Brennon whose firm has been hired to investigate Andy. He learns that Andy is involved with Tommy and what Tommy does for a living. Recognizing why Harlen has tapped him for this assignment and what is expected of him, he debates whether he should try to collect more damaging information about Andy and Tommy. In the end, he decides he has enough information already to ruin Andy's career and damage the anti-war movement. Later, at home, he gets into an argument with Josh about the McPherson amendment and the damaging information he has. One thing leads to another and he ends up handing the file he has on Tommy to Josh. When Josh looks at the file, he recognizes Tommy's picture. Shocked by what he has learned, Josh asks Nolan to promise he won't release the damaging information to the press. When Nolan demurs, Josh ends up sleeping on the couch.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
I was hoping Josh would be more reasonable in the morning and things would be better, but they weren’t. I tried to embrace him when he finally appeared in the kitchen for breakfast, but Josh wasn’t buying it and just pushed me away. The ride over to his school that morning was equally frosty. When I finally got to work, I decided to take a walk to try to sort things out in my mind. I wasn’t sure what I should do at that point.
Come on, Nolan, I remember telling myself as I walked north toward the Capitol. You’re the one who’s good at coming up with solutions to dilemmas like this. Come on, think it through. There’s a solution to every problem, even one like this. You just need to figure it out.
By now I was standing in front of the Capitol staring up at the dome and the Statue of Freedom. It kind of sent a chill through my body just looking at it in the bright light of day.
What would Harlen do in these circumstances? I asked myself.
And then it came to me.
I turned around and started walking back to my office rapidly.
It wasn’t perfect and it might not work at all. I would be going out on a limb, but it was definitely cleaner politically than just putting the information out there. If it worked, I wouldn’t have to release the documents to the press and yet the problems we were having with the McPherson amendment would become easier to deal with because Blanchard would be out of the way. I knew I would need Harlen’s help to pull it off at some point, but I was certain he would back me up because even he would recognize it was politically cleaner.
When I got back to my office, I picked up the phone and called a friend at the White House to confirm what I was pretty certain I had already heard. When he did, I called in my secretary.
“I want you to set up a lunch for me with a fellow named Andy Blanchard,” I said. “He works for Congressman John McPherson. Try to set it up for sometime early next week, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. Perhaps at the Capitol Grille; and make sure we get a table upstairs that’s private. I need to be able to talk to him confidentially.”
“What should I tell him if he asks why you want to meet?” she said.
“Just tell him I want to talk to him about the McPherson amendment,” I replied. “And be sure to mention I’m on detail to the DNC from the White House and what my job is over there.”
Later that day she let me know she had been successful in setting up lunch for the following week. I wanted the extra time to think through exactly how I would approach things, how Blanchard might respond, and how I would deal with any contingencies. The whole thing was going to be delicate and I needed to think through all of the possibilities. Having the weekend to do that would help. It would help a lot.
Unfortunately, the weekend did little to resolve the cold war back at our place. Josh was still sleeping on the couch even though I told him I was trying to find a way to work things out without releasing the information to the press. But he wouldn’t listen to reason and I remember being annoyed. It had been a long time since I had slept by myself and it wasn’t something I was enjoying.
As planned, I had lunch with Blanchard the following Tuesday. I arrived early and checked out the private room my secretary had reserved for the two of us. It was perfect. We could talk without being overheard. Blanchard arrived on time and I introduced myself to him. I remember thinking he was better looking in person than the pictures I had seen gave him credit for.
The two of us shook hands and sat down. We avoided talking shop until we had ordered and our food had been served. Once we began eating, however, Blanchard turned the conversation to business almost immediately.
“Your secretary said you wanted to talk about my boss’ amendment and I’m happy to do that. But I want to begin by saying I find it annoying that the DNC, which is supposed to speak for all Democrats, seems to be siding with the President in this fight. I can’t remember the last time the DNC became involved in something like this on which Democrats were so divided. Not that it’s all that surprising, I suppose, but it’s annoying, really annoying.”
“Umm, well, as I’m sure you know, the chairman of the DNC is close friends with the President,” I replied. “She appointed him to the job after all so I suppose it’s not surprising the DNC would be supporting her on something important like this. She is the leader of the party after all.”
“The majority of whose members support the McPherson amendment,” Blanchard countered. “All of the polls show that very clearly; and a majority of the Democrats in the House and the Senate are also opposed to the war for that matter.”
“Fair enough,” I responded. “But the President has to do what she thinks is right for the country, not just follow the polls.”
“Sure,” he replied. “But she seems to change her mind about that a lot, don’t you think? When she was running for President last year and it was politically convenient, she was for our amendment. She gets elected and poof. Just like that, suddenly she’s now opposed to the amendment.”
“Look, Andy,” I said, “and let me begin by asking whether I can call you Andy? Feel free to call me Nolan by the way.”
“Sure, call me whatever you want,” he replied, grinning. “I’ve heard myself called quite a few things by White House lately, especially that dweeb little Press Secretary you have over there.”
“Okay, thanks,” I responded. “And I’m not going to spend any time defending our Press Secretary. But let me get right to the bottom line. I know you’re committed to your amendment, Andy, and I respect that. Unlike a lot of people in this town, I think there’re usually at least two sides to most issues and I can respect anyone who’s opposed to the war. To be honest, I’m not all that keen on it myself. But I hope you recognize there’s another point of view on this and would give the President the benefit of the doubt in terms of her motives. Just like you’re doing what you think is right, I’m sure the President is doing the same thing.”
He just sat there staring at me without saying a word.
“The reason I mention this is because I haven’t seen any new arguments for or against that amendment of yours for a long time now. All of the arguments either side could make are on the table, at least as far as I can see. The truth is we seem to be at a point where the only thing left to do is to bring the amendment to a vote and see who has a majority. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Absolutely,” he replied. “I’d be happy to have a vote on the amendment today. Yesterday would be even better. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership has put off the vote until after the Labor Day recess at President Clay’s request. And the reason for that is pretty obvious, don’t you think, Nolan? You don’t have the votes to defeat our amendment so the President wants to delay a vote to try to twist enough arms to win.”
“Of course,” I responded. “And that’s my whole point, Andy. This is out of our hands now. The big boys and girls are involved. The President is trying to twist arms. Your boss and his friends are trying to keep the votes you already have and to add some more if you can. There really isn’t much staff like us can do at this point except to step aside and let the big boys and girls do their thing. Don’t you agree?”
“You’re going somewhere with this, Nolan,” Andy replied, “but I’m not really sure where. Why don’t we skip all the rhetoric and get to the bottom line.”
“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I will in a moment. But let me ask you a question. If it wasn’t for your amendment, would you have any problem with President Clay? Do you think she’s doing a good job on other things?”
“Sure,” Andy responded. “I’m a good Democrat. I support her agenda, at least the stuff that doesn’t have to do with the war. She’s definitely trying to move the country in the right direction; except for the war, of course. She’s totally off base about that.”
“Good,” I replied. “I’m glad to hear that. From everything I’ve heard, I thought you would.”
“So what’s the point?” Andy responded, looking over at me.
“You know, hard as it may be to believe, there are a lot of people on our side of this issue who’ve been impressed with your work on the amendment, Andy,” I began. “I’m not just saying that to flatter you. I’m saying it because it’s true. You’ve done a hell of a job in bringing the amendment as far as you have. But like I just told you, you’ve brought it as far as you can and nothing you do between now and Labor Day is going to make a whit of difference. Maybe your side will win when the amendment comes up for a vote. Maybe our side will win. But whichever side wins, it won’t change what people think of the job you’ve done.”
“Now I happen to know the White House is looking for a new Deputy Director for Domestic Policy,” I continued. “Nelson Bell is leaving and we need to replace him quickly. I think you would be perfect for that job, Andy. You’re bright. You’re compassionate. And you’re committed to doing things that’ll make a difference for the American people, just like the President.”
“And you know as well as me just how important that job is, Andy. It’s not some honorific position. The Deputy Director really runs the whole operation while the Director spends all of his time making speeches and selling the President’s domestic agenda across the nation. I expect it isn’t all the different from your job with Congressman McPherson. You do the work and he gets the credit. But being a staff assistant to a congressman is pretty small potatoes compared to what I’m talking about. Both of us know that. So that’s the bottom line. Would you like the job?”
He had been listening intently to all of this and I could tell he was curious about it.
“Well, first of all, Nolan, I want to correct the record,” Andy replied. “I just do what the Congressman asks me to do. It’s his amendment and I just do the staff work. Moreover, if I didn’t know what an honorable and upstanding person you must be, what with working for the Executive branch and all, I might think you were offering me . . . hmm, what should I call it? A bribe; no, bribe is such a harsh word, Nolan, don’t you think? Maybe inducement would be a better word for it. What do you think, Nolan?”
“I think you’re overreacting, Andy,” I responded, having already anticipated the possibility he would say something like that. “Do you actually think I talked Nelson Bell into resigning just so we could offer you his job? I can’t believe someone like you who knows how this town works would think something like that.”
“The thing is, you’re too damn modest for your own good,” I continued. “I’m not saying anything bad about the Congressman, but the movers and shakers in this town know how important you are to him and they think it’s time for someone like you to move on to bigger things. And they’re not asking you to change your position on the amendment either.”
“You wouldn’t have to go public against the amendment or work against it either. They respect your integrity too much to ask you to do something like that, Andy. That’s why they’re offering you this particular job on the domestic side where you wouldn’t have to do something that offends your conscience. It’s really a hell of an opportunity for someone like you. If you’re as smart as I think you are, you’ll take it.”
I had done my best to pitch the job in a way that wouldn’t offend him and he answered quickly enough.
“Well, then, I guess I have to accept,” Andy replied, smiling at me. “I’ll be happy to take that position you’re offering me, Nolan; in September, after we’ve had the vote on the McPherson amendment.”
I had counted on him making that suggestion as well so I was already prepared for that.
“That doesn’t work, Andy,” I replied. “You know that. Nelson didn’t give us any heads up before making his decision and there’s no way we can leave the position vacant for that long. The job is open now and it needs to be filled now. The President can’t wait around until September to fill it. Her domestic agenda is what she cares about most.”
“Both of us know important jobs like this don’t come along every day, Andy,” I continued, “just like both of us know how quickly they get filled when Senate confirmation isn’t required. If the job is still there after the vote in September, I’m sure we would still want you for it. But the President is desperate to get the position filled now. It’s just too important for her. So I would need your answer now and you would need to start right away too.”
I remember Andy staring off into the distance momentarily. He wanted it. I could tell that he did. He knew how important the position was, just like I knew I was going out on a limb offering it to him. But I was certain Harlen would back me up because this was definitely cleaner from the President’s point of view and would have pretty much the same effect as leaking the story to the press. It would get Andy off of our case.
“It’s tempting, Nolan,” he finally said. “And I’m not deluded enough to think this has nothing to do with the amendment. Both of us know it does. But it’s a fair offer and I’m tempted. The thing is, the McPherson amendment is just too important to me and I’m not going to back off this close to the finish line. So I’ll have to decline and see how honest you’re being with me if by chance that job is still open after the vote in September.”
I remember just staring at Andy. It was hard to believe he was turning me down. I had given it my best shot and it had almost worked. But as with most things in Washington, almost didn’t count. And now it was apparent my choices were dwindling and I would probably have to leak the information we had on Andy to the press. I didn’t want to do that because by then I had begun to like the guy; and Josh was right after all. Doing something like that would be wrong. I just didn’t see what choice I had.
The two of us had finished eating and Andy started to stand up as if he was about to leave. I reached over and grabbed his hand.
“Sit with me for a couple more minutes, Andy,” I said.
“Look, Andy,” I continued, trying to gather my thoughts as best I could. “I’m kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place here. I really do think you would be terrific for the job I mentioned and I’ll do my best to try to keep it open until after the vote. I really will. But, like I said, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that; and even if I could, well, both of us know a lot of harsh words are going to be exchanged between now and the vote in September. It takes time for those kinds of wounds to heal. Both of us know that.”
“Like I said before,” I added, “nothing you or I do or say is going to make very much difference in the next month or two. This fight is going to be settled by the big boys and girls, not the peons like us.”
“The President would really like the chance to make her pitch quietly, one on one, without all of these other distractions, Andy; the op-ed pieces, the letters to the editor, the demonstrations, etc.,” I continued. “I know you can’t stop all of it, but we know you’re behind a lot of that stuff so all I’m asking is whether you could take a step back so the big boys and girls can settle the matter among themselves just like they always do in the end.”
“Everyone has a job to do, Nolan,” he responded. “I have a job and you do too. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see what you’re getting at now.”
It was the opening I had been waiting for. I pulled the folder out of my briefcase and placed it in front of myself. Then I pushed it slowly across the table toward Andy. He opened it, glanced at it briefly, and then closed it again just as quickly.
“What do you want, Nolan?” he asked, his voice suddenly turning cold, detached, and to the point.
“Look, Andy, I’m caught in the middle here,” I replied. “I had nothing to do with starting the investigation that produced this report, nothing at all. It’s not the way I do business. Let’s just say there are people who want you out of the way and they’re using me to get to you. Now we can do this the hard way or the easy way, Andy; and to be honest, there are folks on my side who would prefer doing it the hard way. But that’s not something I want to do because I have too much respect for you. But I need you to help me out here.”
“You look tired, Andy,” I continued, softly. “You’re eyes are starting to get puffy and you’re starting to get circles under them too. You’ve been yawning a lot throughout lunch. I think you could use a vacation and God knows you deserve one given everything you’ve done. Take a vacation, Andy, a long none. When you get back, spend less time in the office and more time with the people you care about.”
“No,” Andy said, staring at me with disdain. “I’m not going to back off. This war is bigger than either of us, Nolan, and much too big for me to back off. But thanks for telling me what I have to look forward to. That was really nice of you,” he added, sarcastically. “I appreciate knowing I’m a dead man walking.”
“Look, Andy,” I pleaded, “I’m not asking you to change your mind about the war or to stop doing whatever your boss asks you to do to support the amendment. It’s all the other stuff you’re doing with the other congressional staff, the outside organizations, the press, etc. If you could back away from that, even just a little, it would make it a lot easier for me not to do anything with this report.”
“Like I said, no,” Andy replied, suddenly standing up.
“You know, Nolan, this isn’t going to change anything as far as the amendment is concerned,” he said. “Oh, yeah, sure, I’ll pay a price personally, but the organization we’ve put in place won’t even notice once I’m gone. Other people will step up and it’ll keep running just as hard without me being around. So you can tell your friends down at the White House not to count on much of a bump out of this if that’s what they’re hoping for. That isn’t going to happen.”
“But there’s someone else beside me who’s going to pay a price for all the fine work you’ve done. You don’t even know anything about him, what he’s been through or why. And yet you’re willing to destroy him and for what, Nolan? For nothing! I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
With that he tossed twenty dollars on to the table, then turned and walked out of the place abruptly.
Damn, I remember thinking. Why is everyone in this town so self-righteous? Why does everything have to be done the hard way in Washington?
I paid the bill and left. Then I walked back to my office. I remember being in a really down mood.
What now genius? I remember asking myself. You tried to bluff him and now he’s calling you. What are you going to do now, Nolan?
To be honest, I can’t even recall what I did the rest of that day. The whole thing had come as a shock. I had convinced myself Andy would take the job and that would solve the dilemma I faced. The alternative was too hard to contemplate. But he hadn’t taken the job and now I was back to square one.
When we got home that evening, I decided to tell Josh what I had done. I was hoping he would cut me some slack for trying, but there was a part of me that knew he wouldn’t.
“I tried, babe,” I said, after explaining the whole thing to him. “I did my best. I really did. I offered him a reasonable way out, one in which no one gets hurt. But he’s hard headed like you, Josh. What am I supposed to do?”
“That’s easy,” Josh replied looking over at me. “You’re supposed to do the right thing and both of us know what that is.”
“Oh yeah sure,” I replied, bitterly. “Do the right thing. Everything’s simple for you, Josh. Knowing what’s right and wrong is easy for you because you’re so damn prefect, unlike all of the rest of us who have to live in the real world.”
“Look, Nolan, I know the two of us don’t agree about the war,” he responded. “I can understand that. If you really think the President is doing the right thing or even if you just think she deserves some flexibility in dealing with the issue, feel free to try to defeat the amendment. I don’t have a problem with that.”
“But do it honestly, on the merits, Nolan. I might not agree, but I can respect someone doing what they think is right. Doing it by peddling some information about someone’s personal life is wrong; and since you’re always talking about the real world, keep in mind that what goes around comes around in life. How are you going to feel when someone decides to ruin that political career of yours down the road because the two of us are a couple?”
“But we love each other, Josh,” I interjected. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“I agree,” Josh replied. “But what do you really know about Tommy and Andy? Maybe they love each other just as much as we do. Are you certain they don’t? Are you certain both of them are such terrible people they deserve whatever happens to them?”
“I don’t know about you, Nolan, but I sure would want to know a lot more before I set about ruining someone’s life; and to be perfectly honest about it, I could never live with ruining anyone’s life no matter what I knew about them.”
“I dunno,” I muttered. “You make it seem so simple and obvious. I don’t know what to do at this point.”
“Well you better think about it carefully, Nolan,” he responded; “because you’re only going to get one chance to get it right.”
“I don’t want to think about it anymore, at least not tonight,” I replied. “This whole thing has been weighing on me for what seems like forever. I just want to forget about the whole thing tonight and hug you Josh. Is that asking too much?”
I was surprised when Josh walked over and embraced me. After what we had been through the last couple of days, it felt good, so damn good.
“Can we go upstairs now?” I asked.
“I can’t do that,” he replied, softly. “I care about you very much, Nolan, more than anything else in the world, but I need to know you’re still the same person I fell in love with back in Vermont.”
I sighed and just held on to him as long as I could.
“You’ll figure it out, Nolan,” he finally said. “You’ll do the right thing. I know you will.”
Then he kissed me on the cheek and walked away.
After dropping Josh off at his school the next morning, I went for a walk. I needed to think things through and I spent the next couple of hours doing just that. On the one hand, I knew what Harlen would do and what he expected me to do. It would probably be less clean now because Andy knew about my role in the whole thing and might try to fight back if I leaked the story to Robin Gomez and the Post.
But I was pretty certain Harlen would help me ride it out if that happened. I knew too much for him not to help.
I thought about whether I should call Harlen and ask to be reassigned back to the White House. He would be disappointed with me. I knew that, but it would solve my dilemma. Or would it?
What would I do with all the information I had on Andy and Tommy? Harlen wasn’t stupid. He would ask whether I had met with Bill Brennon and I would have to tell him the truth. But then what? I couldn’t give Harlen the information. There was no way he would want his fingers all over those reports. But he would know I was asking to be reassigned because of what I had learned; and even though I might be too squeamish to leak it, he would want to get it out to the press somehow and I would have to help him do that if only by giving it to someone else.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized Harlen wasn’t the problem. The problem was Josh. If I leaked the story myself or helped Harlen leak it, he would be incredibly disappointed with me. I had always taken it for granted Josh would forgive me whenever I screwed up. Now I began to wonder whether he would forgive me if I did this.
A warning light went off in the back of my mind. Josh always did the right thing, no matter what. He was counting on me to do it too. Giving these reports to Robin Gomez and the Post would be wrong. Josh knew it and I knew it too. This could end up being the one thing Josh could never forgive, the one thing that might break us up.
I was on the other side of the Capitol now and I remember staring down toward the Mall. There was the Washington Monument reflecting the morning heat and beyond it the Lincoln Memorial. I loved being in Washington. I wanted to make a difference. But Josh and I had been together for almost six years. If anything, I loved the guy more than ever. He was the most important thing in my life, more important than the job, more important than a political career. Maybe I was doing it for the wrong reason, but it was still the right thing to do.
I walked back to the office and sat down at my desk. I reached over, grabbed a sheet of stationery, and then scratched out the note as quickly as I could.
Let me begin by apologizing for my behavior yesterday. It was wrong and I’m very sorry for that.
I’m enclosing with this note the files, pictures and videos I showed you at lunch yesterday. They were collected by The Brennon Group, which was financed by John Neilson, a close friend of the President. However, I don’t think the President knows anything about this.
I was told what I am enclosing are the original and only copy of these documents. If so, you now have them and should feel free to do whatever you want with them. Personally, however, I am not certain I would trust the word of a former CIA operative in this regard. Someone may come at you from another direction on this. It will not be with my help or assistance; and if I have the chance, I’ll do what I can to prevent that from happening.
Again, I’m very sorry for what I tried to do. As you may have guessed, I am not very experienced in politics but this doesn’t seem to me to be the way anything should ever be done and I apologize.
I signed the note, placed the file, photos, and videos inside, sealed everything up tightly, and then scribbled “Personal and Confidential” across the large manila envelope. I walked back to the Rayburn building, located Congressman McPherson’s office, and handed the envelope to the receptionist. It was almost noon.
“Would you please be certain Mr. Blanchard gets this as soon as possible?” I asked. “It’s something we discussed at lunch yesterday and it’s very important that he get this information as soon as possible.”
Then I turned around and left as quickly as I could. I was too ashamed to face the guy or to apologize in person to him.
I told Josh what I had done on the drive home that evening. When we finally got back to our place, he gave me a big hug and a kiss and promptly moved his stuff back into our bedroom.
I was pathetic that night, just like a little puppy dog seeking some love and affection.
“Do I get a reward for doing the right thing?” I asked when we finally climbed into bed that evening.
“Of course,” Josh responded, smiling at me.
He rewarded me twice that evening and I was in seventh heaven.