Click on the link below to read Chapter 51 of Connected in the pdf format (better formatting).
Or just read it below online in the html format.
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 and in doing the right thing, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. While some events, locations and features have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, the story takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still at its beginnings. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story at my blog here. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is intended for mature audiences only since it includes scenes that depict graphic sex and violence. While I realize people read stories like this for different reasons, you may be disappointed if you’re reading my story primarily for sexual content. There is some, which is why I’ve included the warning. But if sexual content is your primary focus, you may do better on a site like Nifty.
NOTICE: This 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. 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. Comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. Any help with spelling and other errors would also be appreciated since I would like to correct those wherever possible. Feel free to leave a comment below or to contact me at kitkatkid[at]planetmail[dot]net if you would like to let me know what you think. Please note that this story is being archived on Nifty. However, individual chapters will always be published here first. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 50, Andy asks Tommy whether he would like to move in with him so the two of them can live together. Noting that Ray has rules he has to obey, Tommy asks about the rules he’ll be expected to abide by if he decides to move in. Andy explains he doesn’t have any rules; that if rules are needed, they’ll make them up together like two adults. Tommy agrees to move in. The two begin making out on the floor, but their first effort to make love ends because Tommy is nervous. Later a second effort to get it on fails when Andy’s insecurities bubble to the surface. He can’t understand why Tommy would like him more than Josh, Sean or Teddy, all of whom are younger and better looking than him. Tommy tries to reassure Andy that he likes him for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he reminds Tommy of all three of his friends. Andy is like Josh in being sweet and innocent, in taking on causes, and in genuinely caring for Tommy. Sean and Andy are alike in their love of history, their tenacious and their refusal to take no for an answer. As for Teddy, Tommy tells Andy he wants to show him how they are alike. Eventually he leads Andy to the bedroom and makes love to him in a new and more intimate way, one that leaves both Andy and Tommy content and fulfilled.
Part V – Something Worthy
Jeff was the first to call, the one who told me to drop whatever I was doing and turn on CNN immediately. When I did, I was dumbfounded by what I heard.
“Again, as we indicated earlier, sources this morning are reporting that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is brokering a compromise between President Anne Henderson Clay and Congressman John McPherson, whose amendment prohibiting funding for the war in North Burkistan has held up consideration of the defense appropriations bill in the House for months now.”
“According to informed sources, McPherson is reportedly considering abandoning his amendment based upon personal assurances he’s received from the White House regarding the future direction of the war. We are following this story closely and will keep you updated on a regular basis.”
And then every phone in our office began ringing off the hook simultaneously.
The place was a madhouse. No one seemed to know where the Congressman was or when he was scheduled to arrive in the office. Rather than trying to deal with all the calls coming in, I sat down and quickly drafted a statement for Gene to give to the press, one the rest of the staff could also use with constituents and everyone else inundating our office with calls, e-mails, faxes, and instant messages.
Congressman John H. McPherson will be holding a press conference later today to address the latest media reports regarding his amendment to end funding for the war in Burkistan. All of these reports are based on unnamed, anonymous, sources and none reflect the views of Congressman McPherson. The Congressman remains committed to ending the war in Burkistan at the earliest possible moment and has not abandoned his amendment to cut off funding for the war.
Before I could even give it to Gene, Julie told me the Congressman had finally arrived and wanted to see me immediately. When I walked into his office, I could tell something was wrong just from a glance at his face.
“I just had a call from the Speaker while I was driving in, Andy,” he said. “He wants me to come over to his office at 11 a.m. and suggested I bring you along as well.”
“Why do you think he wants to see you?” I asked, as if I didn’t already know.
“Because you’ve done your job too well, Andy, much too well,” he responded, a smile slowly creasing his wrinkled face. “He said Harlan Lane from the White House would be there as well so I imagine he wants to talk compromise.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea, sir?” I responded. “I mean, I was just listening to CNN before you came in and they were already reporting a compromise was in the works. Once word spreads we’re considering a compromise with the Administration, it’ll create confusion among our troops here in the House and dishearten our friends across the nation.”
“As a matter of fact, knowing Harlan Lane, I’m certain that’s exactly what the White House intends,” I added, surprised by the bitterness I could hear creeping into my voice.
“That’s why I put together this statement,” I continued, handing my draft to the Congressman. “We’re being inundated with calls, both from reporters looking for a comment and from constituents and others who are concerned about what they’re hearing. We need to say something in response to these reports, sir.”
“I expect you’re right about that, Andy,” the Congressman replied. “But it’s not like we have much choice in the matter. We have to listen to what the Speaker has to say and we may have to do more than just listen,” he added, ominously.
“Here,” he added, scribbling on the draft I had handed to him. “You can give this to Gene to use with the press and the staff can use it with everyone else.”
Congressman John H. McPherson will be holding a press conference later today to address the latest media reports regarding his amendment to end funding for the war in Burkistan. All of these reports are based on unnamed, anonymous, sources and none reflect the views of Congressman McPherson. The Congressman remains committed to ending the war in Burkistan at the earliest possible moment and has not abandoned his amendment to cut off funding for the war at this time.
I looked at it briefly, noting the change he had scribbled in at the end. On the way out of his office, I handed it to Gene and told Julie to make copies for the rest of the staff as well.
Oh, shit, I remember thinking. This is going to end badly.
But I knew better than to argue with Happy Jack until he had more time to think through his options.
Instead, I started returning calls from our closest friends and supporters, trying to reassure them and lift their spirits. But it was hard. The truth is what I was trying to do was to reassure myself.
Later, as we took the elevator down to the subway that would bring us over to the Capitol, I remember becoming more and more nervous. It was obvious we had them scared. Why else would they want to meet with us? Still, nothing good could come from it and I had to wonder whether Happy Jack would cave under the pressure he was about to be subjected to.
When we reached the Speaker’s office, we were ushered in immediately. The place was crowded. In addition to the Speaker and Wade Walker, his floor general, the Majority Leader, the Whip and other members of the leadership team were there with their top aides as well. You could tell they were getting ready to apply a full court press.
And then there was Harlan Lane, the man who might know more about me than anyone else in that room. He was just sitting there calm as could be, smiling, taking everything in, enjoying the chaos and confusion he was responsible for creating with his leak to the press. I knew it had to be him that was behind all of this.
I sat down on one of the couches at the back of the room and tried to blend in. This was going to be Happy Jack’s call and there was nothing much I could do about that.
“Thanks for coming over, Jack,” the Speaker intoned. “I appreciate it so much.”
I was sure he genuinely did appreciate it because the Speaker was known as the politest person on Capitol Hill. I had only rarely been this close to the man and remember being in awe as I stared at him now.
The Speaker was a legendary political figure, one whose roots were deep in the American heartland. His district, which stretched from golden cornfields in the south to rugged, snow-capped, mountains up north, had elected him to the House of Representatives at the tender age of 25 and then reelected the man every two years ever since. The Republicans had stopped putting up candidates to run against him more than two decades ago and his political future was secure after that.
The grandson of a former governor and son of a longtime senator, a man who had wooed and married the daughter of a sitting President in a wedding that Washington never got over, Clark Meredith was not just a kindly looking man. He was one of those rare political figures loved by all for his character, his integrity, and his commitment to common decency in an era that had long since abandoned common decency as a virtue.
“I’m going to get right to the bottom line here,” he continued, “and without any small talk either. Now Jack, this amendment of yours is a problem. As you know, the American people elected a Democratic President for the first time in twelve years last fall; and we have a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate and the chance to do some awfully important things for the American people. Both of us know that.”
“But this amendment of yours, if it passes, it would hurt the President, Jack; you know that just as well as I do. It would hurt her quite badly and could hurt her agenda as well.”
“Now I know that’s not your intent, Jack,” he added. “I know you believe this war is a mistake quite passionately and you know I probably don’t disagree with you on that very much, if at all. But I’m the Speaker, Jack, and I have to help the President out. That’s my job and that’s why I asked you to come over this morning.”
“We need to get defense appropriations enacted, but we haven’t been able to bring the damn bill to the floor for months now because of your amendment. We can’t delay any longer so we’re going to need to see whether we can work out some kind of compromise, Jack, one that doesn’t damage the President but that satisfies you as well. How do you feel about that Jack?”
“Well, Mr. Speaker, you know just as well as I do I’m not trying to hurt the President,” Happy Jack responded. “She’s a fine lady and I admire her greatly. But I offered this very same amendment on the floor of the House two years ago before she even decided to run for President; and then I offered it again last June right after she won the New York primary.”
“And as you know full well, Clark, the President endorsed my amendment back then. She told all the reporters she would have voted for it if she was a member of the House of Representatives. So, when she was elected last fall, I said to myself, thank God, John. Now I won’t have to offer that damn amendment again because we’re going to have a President who’s committed to ending the war.”
“I was surprised when she changed her mind about that in February, of course. It just shocked me something terrible, Clark. I don’t know why she did that. She never did offer a very credible explanation. You know that as much as I do, Mr. Speaker. But she did change her mind. And I just believe I have to offer my amendment again and that’s what I’m planning on doing.”
“So you’re telling me you’re not open to any compromise, Jack?” the Speaker replied. “Is that what you’re telling me? That it has to be your amendment or nothing?”
“No, I didn’t say that at all, Clark,” Happy Jack responded. “But you know damn well this isn’t the kind of issue that’s easy to compromise. It’s not like most compromises in an appropriations bill where the boys get together and just split the difference. One side wants $1 million, the other $2 million. So what do they do, Mr. Speaker? They do what they always do. They settle on $1.5 million and everyone goes away happy, everyone gets something they can brag on.”
“But this here is a war we’re talking about, Clark,” Happy Jack continued, “a real, live, war, where young boys from your district and mine and from all of the other districts all across these United States are dying every day; every day, Clark!”
“Now how in the hell are we going to compromise that, Mr. Speaker?” Happy Jack asked. “Are we going to tell those boys, “Son, I got some good news for you; the President and the Speaker and Congressman McPherson have agreed that for this coming year only half as many of you are going to die as would have died otherwise?” I don’t think so, Clark. I don’t think so at all.”
“So, yes, I’m willing to listen to anything the White House wants to propose,” the Congressman said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be easy. And it doesn’t help when I look up at the television set when I get here this morning and see one of those airhead news boys reporting they’ve heard from unnamed sources that the Speaker is trying to work out a compromise on the issue.”
“That’s not the Speaker I know, Clark. The Speaker I know would have gotten us together quietly without trying to embarrass me like that in the press.”
“Did you hear that story, too, Harlan?” Happy Jack added, disdainfully, looking over at Harlan Lane, then quickly back at the Speaker.
“Why, if I didn’t know better, Clark, if I didn’t trust you so much personally, Mr. Speaker, I might even believe this whole thing was deliberately leaked to the press in order to create confusion and doubt about what I plan to do.”
“And no one should have any doubt about that,” he added, looking back over at Harlan again.
“I intend to offer my amendment unless we come up with a real compromise, one that’s genuine. But it has to be genuine, Clark. It really does. And that means the President can’t just get her way. And I can’t either.”
Although I wasn’t happy with all the talk about compromise, I had never been prouder of Happy Jack than I was at that moment for standing up to the White House like that.
“Fair enough, Jack,” the Speaker replied. “I’ll be speaking with reporters before we go into session today and I’ll make sure they have the facts correct, that it was the White House that asked me to arrange this meeting with you; and that while you’re open to listening, you haven’t backed off your amendment one iota.”
“I wish I didn’t have to issue that kind of correction,” he added, glancing over at Harlan. “But I do. And just so everyone knows, my only interest here is to see whether a compromise is possible and I recognize you’re right Jack. It’s going to be mighty hard to find one. It’s going to take putting the public interest first, not the interest of any of us.”
“Here’s what I would suggest, Jack, and you tell me whether this is okay with you. Now Wade tells me this young man back there,” the Speaker continued, pointing directly at me, “Wade tells me he’s your point man on this and he’s quite a dynamo, and that he’s probably more responsible than anyone else for creating all these problems for me and our leadership team here,” he added, smiling benignly at me.
I tried not to cringe as most of the eyes in the room shifted to me momentarily.
“So I would suggest we get you and Andy together with Harlan over in one of my private rooms across the way,” the Speaker added. “And I’ll have Wade sit in as well to make sure everything is on the up and up, and that everyone is doing their best to work out a compromise.”
“And we’ll just let you talk to see whether we can get something done here in the next three or four days. Because I can’t hold this damn bill up anymore just because we don’t have the votes to beat you at the moment, Jack.”
It was reassuring to hear the Speaker himself say they didn’t have the votes to beat us. It seemed to me he was telling the White House subtly they had better be serious about finding a compromise.
But I also knew they were still working feverishly to get the votes to beat us and that it was rare for the leadership to lose when they were working an issue that hard.
“That’s fine with me, Clark,” Happy Jack responded, “with two caveats. First, I have a busy schedule today so I don’t have time to sit in on the negotiations. Andy can do the negotiating for our side just fine and I’m sure I’ll be happy with anything he agrees to.”
I remember gasping, silently. It came as a shock.
“And as for the rest of it, I’m not interested in dragging this out, Mr. Speaker,” Happy Jack continued. “That would only cause confusion among my troops and I’m not about to let that happen. I’m going to take enough grief from them if we do work out a compromise. Asking them to put up with any further delay is not really fair.”
“So Andy and Harlan can talk and having Wade there to help grease the wheels is a fine idea, Mr. Speaker. But this isn’t going to take no three or four days. If they can’t work something out in the next three or four hours, then we’ll just have to settle this on the floor. I think that’s fair, Mr. Speaker.”
“All right, fine, that probably makes sense,” the Speaker intoned. “No need to drag this out. We’ll give them some time to see what they can work out and then we’ll meet back here at 5 p.m. and see what, if anything, they’ve come up with.”
“But Wade, I want you to understand you’re only in that room to keep these fellows from killing each other and to make sure everyone else stays away. This is their business, not mine, and any compromise has to come from the two of them, not from us. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Wade responded.
“Good,” the Speaker concluded. “And thanks to all of you for coming around this morning on such short notice. I do appreciate it so much and I’ll see all of you back here at 5 p.m. Hopefully, we’ll have good news by that time.”
As we walked out of the office, I pulled the Congressman aside.
“Why?” I asked him. “Why me? You need to be in this meeting, sir. It’s your amendment.”
“Now you listen up here, son,” Happy Jack replied, looking over at me sternly. “This may have started out as our amendment, your amendment and mine, and I’m proud of that. But a lot has happened over the last couple of years and the amendment no longer belongs to the two of us anymore.”
“It belongs to a bunch of people all over this country who have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. And you know those people a lot better than I do, son. They’re never going to be satisfied with any compromise, of course, but you’ll do a lot better job negotiating for them than I ever could.”
I remember feeling kind of proud of the confidence Happy Jack was showing in me. Yet, I also felt sick to my stomach at having to betray all the people I had worked with so long by negotiating a compromise. Happy Jack had been right. How do you compromise an issue like this?
“And then, of course, the other thing is I can always say you misled me about the compromise, son, when things go bad,” he added, his eyes twinkling. “I can sacrifice you on the altar of political expediency.”
I remember being taken aback by that, wondering whether he was joking or whether I should take him seriously.
“But I probably won’t,” he continued, smiling, after letting his words sit in. “I just want to give you a little incentive to hang tough in there, son.”
“Do your best, Andy, your very best,” he said, looking sternly at me again. “I have my reasons for not sitting in and I know you feel strongly about this war, but compromise is not a political sin for me like it is for you. You’re representing me in there, son, and I expect you to try your very best. And that means we have to give something up, no matter how hard it is. But you also heard what I said in the Speaker’s office. It has to be a genuine compromise, not a phony one. I trust you’ll do your best.”
“I’ll try, sir,” I responded, swallowing the bitter pill I was being fed. “I’ll really try.”
“Oh, and one other thing,” I added.
“What?” Happy Jack replied.
“Sir, I just want to say thank you. I’ve never been prouder of you than I was this morning for not just caving in under all of the pressure.”
“You’re welcome, Andy,” Happy Jack replied. “I know you don’t believe it most of the time, but I really do want to see this damn war ended as much as you do. I really do.”
After we had finished our private conversation, Wade led Harlan and me down the corridor to the room the Speaker was making available to us.
“Okay, guys,” he said. “You only have four, maybe five, hours to get this thing wrapped up. I’m going to get Jill to order some pizzas and drinks for us. Any preferences?”
“I like pepperoni and mushrooms,” I piped up.
“We can live with that,” Harlan chimed in. “You see how easy we are, Wade? We’ve already made our very first compromise of the day. Pepperoni gives me heartburn, but I’m willing to live with that for the sake of compromise. Perhaps you could order some iced tea for me as well,” he added.
“Sure,” Wade replied. “I’m a fan of iced tea myself.”
“And a regular Pepsi for me,” I added.
“Oh, Lord,” Harlan said, smiling. “You see that, Wade. He’s hanging tough on us, son. He has to be different. Some people are like that, you know, Wade, just different,” he added, smiling at me once again.
It was pretty obvious he was trying to scare me with all the talk about me being different. But I wasn’t about to give him the pleasure.
“Or we can skip the food entirely,” I said, “and go back to the status quo for all that I care. I don’t really have a big appetite right about now in any event,” I lied.
“Now don’t be like that Andy,” Wade said, smiling at me. “I’ll be back in a minute after I put these orders in,” he added, opening the door and walking out of the room. “Feel free to start without me if you want.”
Harlan and I just sat there, eyeing each other warily. Eventually he broke the silence.
“I want to congratulate you on the fine job you’ve done for the Congressman on this, son,” Harlan said. “I’ve been in this town for over half a century and you’ve put together one of the very best operations I’ve ever seen in all that time. I’m impressed. I really am; and even though I’m on the opposite side, I have to admire how skillfully you’ve played your cards up until now, Andy. Is it okay if I call you by your first name, son?”
“Sure, Mr. Lane,” I replied. “You can call me whatever you want. It won’t bother me one way or the other.”
I knew he was trying to flatter me now and I wasn’t about to bite for that either.
“Although I would prefer to wait for Wade to get back before we go any further,” I added.
“Of course,” he replied. “I understand.”
Wade was as good as his word and was back in a flash.
“Oh, good,” he remarked, “I see both of you are still alive. I should have asked everyone to check their weapons at the door when we came in,” he added, laughing.
Harlan chuckled loudly, too loudly I thought. I chose to just smile at Wade. He was definitely a very cute guy so that was easy.
“Do you have suggestions for a compromise, Mr. Lane?” I said, turning back to the business at hand.
“What do you want, Andy?” he replied, parrying my effort. “It would help if we knew what the Congressman really wants.”
“He wants the war to be over and U.S. troops out of North Burkistan,” I replied, calmly, “the sooner the better; but I suppose we could talk about a timeline for bringing the troops home.”
“Well, son, that might be a problem,” Harlan responded. “I don’t see how we could ever commit to any firm timeline that would be binding on the President. If we did, the terrorists would just bide their time, waiting for us to leave. So I’m pretty sure the President would never agree to a firm timeline.”
“Of course, we could probably talk about a non-binding timeline, I suppose,” he continued, “one that expressed the President’s very real hope and desire for an end to the U.S. troop commitment at some point in the future. But it would have to be flexible, one that would allow her to change her mind if circumstances on the ground didn’t improve.”
“I see,” I responded, sighing.
Shit, this is going to be harder than I thought, I said to myself before continuing.
“Well, you know, frankly, I don’t think the people you call terrorists really give a damn how long we stay. We’ve already been there for years and that doesn’t seem to have had any effect at all on their willingness to keep fighting. But sure, we can talk about a flexible timeline, Mr. Lane. I’m willing to do that.”
“Assuming we were amenable to a flexible timeline, what would the timeline actually look like? I mean, when do you suppose the President could begin withdrawing U.S. troops under this flexible timeline you’re talking about?”
“Well now that’s not the easiest thing to say,” Harlan replied. “I would have to talk to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs about that, of course, and they would probably not be happy about any timeline at all, even a flexible one. They think we’re going to need to be in Burkistan for a very long time, eight to ten years more at the minimum, and probably longer than that.”
“But, look, I know we’re trying to reach a compromise here, Andy. I think that I could probably persuade the President to commit to some kind of expression of hope she could begin withdrawing some of our troops by the time her first term ended.”
Harlan was offering me nothing, nothing at all. Both of us knew that and I was sure Wade knew it as well. What Wade also knew was that I didn’t suffer fools gladly; and while Harlan wasn’t a fool, he was definitely baiting me. So I was sure Wade was expecting me to explode at any moment.
I wanted to explode, that was for sure, and maybe I even would have. But suddenly there was a knock on the door and Jill was delivering the food we had ordered.
That provided a momentary respite and just enough time for me to take a deep breath and get control of myself.
Remember, you’re representing Happy Jack in here, I reminded myself. What would he do in this situation?
I picked up a slice of pizza and bit into it.
“Well, let’s talk about that,” I replied. “Talk to me about how many troops she might be able to consider withdrawing before the end of her first term? And about the specific conditions that might cause her to back off her withdrawal schedule? What would be the conditions under which she might back off?”
“Hell, son, I don’t know,” Harlan replied, testily.
I think he was annoyed I hadn’t exploded.
“I suppose I would have to get someone from the Defense Department up here to talk about things like that,” he continued. “I suppose the main one would be that she could reserve the right to back off if circumstances on the ground didn’t permit her to withdraw any troops.”
“That’s it,” I said, “just circumstances on the ground? We can’t get any more specific than that?”
“Well, like I said, I’m sure we could get more specific for you if that’s needed,” Harlan responded. “Just let me call over to the Defense Department and see if they can draft up a detailed set of conditions that would require the President to back off. Along with some numbers for a withdrawal schedule that might stretch all the way until the end of her second term.”
“Sure, why don’t you do that,” I replied. “But, like Wade pointed out, we don’t have a lot of time here. They would need to get them up here pretty quickly so we could discuss them.”
“Okay, fine,” Harlan said, looking at me. “I mean, I’m taking it for granted you’re acting in good faith here, son, that I’m not asking the Defense boys to spin their wheels for some useless exercise. Are you telling me Happy Jack would back off his amendment in exchange for a timeline like the one I’ve discussed here and some agreement on conditions for withdrawal?
“Possibly,” I replied. “I mean, I came in here hoping the same thing you did, Mr. Lane, that everyone was acting in good faith. I can’t promise we would agree to whatever Defense comes up with. But we’ll look at what they come up with fairly. The details – the number of troops, the schedule, the conditions – those are things we would need to focus on more closely so the sooner you can get something up here the better.”
Harlan went off by himself to the corner of the room and made his call to the Defense Department. By now I was hungry and was having a hard time holding myself to my fair share of the pizzas. I think Wade understood my dilemma because he offered me one of his slices.
“How much is that going to cost me?” I asked, smiling at him.
“Not very much at all, Andy,” he replied, grinning, “maybe just an arm or a leg. Unless you want to offer up some other body part, of course,” he added, returning my smile.
I remember being shocked. He had said it in a joking way, of course, and no one on the Hill knew I was gay, at least as far as I knew. But why would Wade say something like that at all if he didn’t know, I wondered?
Stop getting paranoid, Andy, I remember telling myself. Wade has always been a friend so don’t do anything to piss him off.
When Harlan returned to the table, we started talking again. By then it was evident to me the Administration wasn’t being serious, that for all the talk of a compromise they were still asking for a completely free hand. I knew that would never fly with Happy Jack.
He had told me it had to be genuine. This wasn’t. I knew it. Harlan knew it. But did Wade know it? I began to focus my efforts on demonstrating to Wade that the Administration was acting in bad faith.
In the end, it wasn’t that hard. For all of his reputation, Harlan seemed to be almost clueless about how ridiculous he was being at times. Every time I raised something he would accept it, then spin it out to some ridiculous extreme where he was giving up nothing, sometimes even less than nothing.
I couldn’t be sure, of course, but I suspected Wade was aware of what I was doing. But he didn’t make any effort to help Harlan out by forcing him to be more realistic. At one or two points, he even offered up some rope with which Harlan proceeded to hang himself further.
Four hours into our discussion some five star general arrived at the room with the conditions and timeline Harlan had requested. He passed copies around the table and we looked at them. It was even better than I had hoped.
The conditions were absurd. They provided the President with total flexibility in exchange for nothing at all. And the actual timeline for the withdrawal of troops was even more ridiculous. It wasn’t really a withdrawal at all, more like a normal rotation of troops.
I glanced over at Wade. He just looked out the window without giving away what he was thinking.
“These are awfully general,” I finally said, after I had finished reading them. “And there sure are lots of them too. Could we talk about reducing the number and maybe tightening them up some?” I asked.
By that time I think Harlan was convinced Happy Jack had tasked me with surrendering on the best terms I could arrange. He was definitely arrogant that way, convinced he had run over a lot bigger dudes than me in his career and certain I wasn’t going to the first one to take him down.
“No, these seem about right to me, son,” he said. “If the Congressman has a problem with one of two of them, then perhaps I could talk directly to him about it. But for now I would like to keep all of these exactly the way they are.”
I looked up at the clock. By now it was 4:40 p.m. Even if Harlan had been willing to talk, there wouldn’t have been enough time to do so seriously unless the Speaker decided to reconvene later.
“The Congressman has given me a free hand to negotiate for him here, Mr. Lane,” I responded. “At this late hour, I don’t think it would be all that useful to try to get him over here to look at all of this.”
“Wade, I’m willing to continue talking,” I added, “but we would need you to ask the Speaker to reconvene at a later time. Any chance you would be willing to do that?” I added, looking over at him.
“We’ve been at this much too long already, son,” Harlan snapped.
I guess all the hours of talking had finally gotten to him by then.
“Like the song says, boy,” he continued, “you have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them. It looks to me like it’s time for you to fold, son.”
Thank you, Harlen, I remember saying to myself. Thank you very much.
I knew it was the right time to say it.
“You know, Wade, I don’t think we’re getting anywhere here,” I said, softly. “I mean, like Harlen mentioned, we’ve been at this for hours now. I’ve been looking for something to hang our hat on, but I’m not seeing it in anything I’ve gotten so far.”
“Well, now, I don’t agree with that, son,” Harlan interrupted. “We’re acting in good faith and I have to say I resent it when someone questions my motives.”
“I didn’t question your motives, Mr. Lane,” I replied, looking over at him. “I just questioned whether we’re getting anywhere. What you have proposed thus far is that the President would make some kind of statement at some point in the future in which she would express some hope that she would be able to begin withdrawing some troops some time just before the end of her first term.”
“Just a hope, mind you, nothing else; and then she would spell out a whole bunch of conditions that might make it impossible for her to even do that much, including some conditions both of us know couldn’t possibly ever be met. That’s all I’m complaining about, Mr. Lane, not about your motives. I don’t have a clue what motivates someone like you.”
“But, like I said, I’m willing to stay here and talk about all of this more with you. I’m willing to stay here and talk for as long as it takes to reach an agreement, a real agreement, one that’s genuine.”
“Well, I’m extremely disappointed,” Harlan replied, turning his attention to Wade. “We need to get the Congressman over here, Wade. Maybe we’ll get some serious negotiations going then.”
“I’ve been trying to negotiate in good faith all day,” he continued, “and this is the way I get treated by some boy who wants to play Mr. Congressman. It’s wrong, I tell you, just plain wrong, Wade. But, of course, I realize some people just don’t have any moral center of gravity to them. They think they can do anything they please no matter how bad or wrong it is and no one will give a damn.”
“That’s what’s wrong with this country today, Wade. Too many perverts trying to undermine the moral foundations of our nation.”
Suddenly the room fell silent. I remember holding my breath and looking down at my shoes. Nothing I could say in response would help so I decided not to say anything at all.
“I don’t think trying to get Congressman McPherson over here would serve any useful purpose,” Wade said. “The Congressman trusts Andy on this and I’m sure he would agree with his assessment of the situation. Happy Jack thinks highly of Andy.”
“But it isn’t just the Congressman who thinks highly of Andy,” he added. “The Speaker thinks highly of him as well. You knew that, didn’t you Harlen?”
“Because the Speaker was just telling me that again this morning,” Wade continued, “telling me how much he would like to steal Andy away from Happy Jack except for the fact that Happy Jack is such a good friend of his.”
“So I don’t think the Speaker would be very happy if he thought the White House was going to turn this into some kind of personal vendetta. In fact, I know for sure he wouldn’t be happy.”
“The truth is he would be pretty damn unhappy if that were to happen, Harlen, and I can tell you from personal experience there’s hell to pay when the Speaker is unhappy. I don’t think that’s something anyone at the White House would like at all, Harlen; I mean, to see what would actually happen if the Speaker was ever unhappy.”
Thank you, Wade, I remember saying to myself. I owe you big time for that.
“I think we should just adjourn this for now,” Wade continued, “and reconvene at the Speaker’s office at 5 p.m. like we agreed to. I need to brief the Speaker on what happened in any event. Thanks for doing your best, gentlemen.”
With that Wade got up and walked out of the room. I pulled my stuff together and stood up. As I headed toward the door Harlan just sat there staring at me, contemptuously. I tried not to smile.