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SUMMARY: The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is dead. Now, with control of the Court hanging in the balance for the first time in years, the race is on to fill this critical vacancy. Who will the President nominate? Will a closely divided Senate approve his choice or will partisan politics derail the nomination? Only one thing is certain. There will be winners and losers and the balance of power may shift in the country depending upon the outcome. In the process, careers will be affected, reputations made and lost, and friendships tested. But which side will ultimately prevail is far from clear. Please note that italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Unless otherwise indicated by context, all of the characters in this story are fictional, not depictions of real people. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so. July 7, 2017: Having trouble keeping track of all the characters? Refresh your memory by checking out the cast here.
Washington was a city in waiting on Friday. Mostly it was waiting for the funeral of Chief Justice Anthony Saviano to be over so it could get on with the fight everyone saw looming on the horizon. Fighting was what Washington did best after all and everyone was anxious about the coming battle.
With control of the Court up for grabs the stakes were higher than usual. Knowing that was the case Washingtonians realized this latest installment of partisan strife would likely prove more brutal as well.
There would be winners and losers and that alone was enough to create anxiety among the city’s residents. If you lived in Washington, it was important to be on the winning side. But which side would prevail in the struggle to fill this latest Court vacancy was far from clear given how closely the Senate was divided.
The issue had seemed settled long ago when Donald Trump appointed several young conservative Justices during his time in office. Everyone assumed the shape of the Court had been set for another generation or more. Then death intervened and muddied the waters in unforeseen ways.
More surprising still, the Democrats had cast off their spinelessness and somehow resurrected themselves politically. They had focused their efforts at the state level and taken advantage of the latest census to redraw congressional maps. That had helped them become more competitive again in the House of Representatives.
Then they had gone on to win back the Presidency and the Senate; and now the Chief Justice had died and suddenly everything was up for grabs again. So, yes, people were waiting for the funeral of the Chief Justice to be over to see what would happen next.
But since it was Friday they were also waiting for the day to end so the weekend could finally begin. Washingtonians looked forward to their weekends as much as anyone else.
The weekend would prove different for everyone, of course, most notably for the Saviano family of Bethesda, Maryland. Their weekend would be consumed in the many small details that come with the task of burying a beloved family patriarch and then comforting one another on the loss they had suffered.
But on this particular Friday, in Washington and elsewhere across America, many others, for different reasons and to varying degrees, were also preparing for the weekend to finally begin.
At Reagan National Airport Senator Paul Jennings was waiting patiently to board his morning flight back to Boston. He would be spending the weekend hosting donors at his home on Cape Cod.
Flying back to Massachusetts after only two days in Washington wasn’t much fun, but the fundraiser had been scheduled months earlier and was too important to miss.
Even though he considered the men and women who would be attending friends and was grateful to them for their financial support, the Senator didn’t enjoy hosting fundraisers.
It seemed to him that too much of his life was consumed in the endless task of raising money for campaigns; campaigns that were becoming more and more expensive thanks to Anthony Saviano and his conservative colleagues.
Sometimes he wondered whether the satisfaction that came from serving the public compensated for all the downsides involved in the job of being a United States Senator. That gave him pause, but Jennings quickly shook off the thought when the announcement came that it was time to board his flight.
Back in the District of Columbia the final visitors trickled through the Great Hall of the Supreme Court to pay their respects to the man they had come to see. By now there were fewer of them.
The clerks maintaining the vigil were talking quietly among themselves. They were waiting for the last of the visitors to leave so they could do so as well. A little after noon an honor guard arrived and the body of the Chief Justice was carried to the waiting hearse for the trip to Our Lady of Fatima in Bethesda.
Once on its way, the clerks quickly departed. In the meantime, some of the work crew that remained started disassembling the catafalque on which the body had rested while others began giving the Great Hall itself a well-deserved scrubbing.
Their work was far from done.
Across town at the White House, Harrison Long and his wife were making their way to the helicopter that would transport them away from Washington. Although there was no end to problems to deal with if you were the President, it made little sense to sit around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue waiting for them to appear on your doorstep.
They would find their way soon enough.
And so, leaving behind all the problems bedeviling Washington, President Long and his wife would be spending their weekend at Camp David. Both loved the rustic retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains when the air was crisp and the foliage changing, especially Harrison Long.
Like others, but perhaps with more cause, the President was waiting for Justice Saviano’s funeral to be over. He was planning to meet with the leadership of the Senate the following Tuesday.
It was not a meeting he was looking forward to.
Even more than the Prime Minister of Israel, President Long despised Senator Morgan McBride of Kentucky. The man had a way of getting under everyone’s skin, but the President had realized years ago there was nothing he could do about that.
McBride was the Minority Leader and would need to be consulted for his opinion about a suitable replacement no matter how hateful and filled with bile that opinion might be. That was reason enough for the President to be looking forward to a weekend away from Washington.
Then, too, experience had taught Harrison Long that some of the problems he was abandoning would likely take care of themselves over the weekend. While always welcome, he also understood they would be quickly replaced by others.
If you were the President of the United States there was no end to problems.
At her plush office at the Constitutional Studies Institute in northeast Washington, Kimberly Dunn had just finished making the last of the calls to the powerful donors whose money sustained the work of the Institute.
She had filled them in on her efforts to derail the nomination of Judge Vaughn Carroll before it could even be made; or if the nomination could not be derailed, the still evolving strategy for defeating the man in the Senate. Reassured, they had pledged their continued support for her work and the work of the Institute.
Kimberly was pleased that afternoon as the number of signatories on her Call to Conscience continued to rise. There were already thirty-six members of the Senate who had agreed to sign on and well over one hundred twenty members of the House of Representatives as well.
She knew many more would agree to sign before the day ended and that still others would call in their approval on Saturday. The only remaining question was whether to call the New York Times and have the document published there as well as in the Washington Post on Sunday.
After making the case to her penny-pinching boss and pushing him hard, he had given her the green light to do so.
Kimberly was proud she was about to fire the opening salvo in the struggle for the soul of America. She was also anxious to see what the public reaction would be and how the President would respond. She hoped the show of unity she had forged among conservatives would give the man pause; perhaps even lead him to nominate someone other than Judge Carroll.
Not that she and her conservative brethren would support another nominee, of course. Any nominee put forward by Harrison Long would be unworthy and become the focus of attack.
Believing the President unlikely to nominate anyone other than Vaughn Carroll and realizing much remained to be done, Kimberly was planning to spend her weekend at the office plotting the downfall of both men.
In New York City, the Prime Minister of Israel was meeting with staff to finalize his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly the following Tuesday. The Prime Minister was not a fan of the United Nations.
Like most of his predecessors, he believed the organization had been a den of anti-Semitism for decades. For that reason alone, the Prime Minister was not planning to pull any punches in his remarks the following week.
Unlike many people who would be resting, the Prime Minister’s weekend would be spent in a round of meetings with those Americans who had been the staunchest supporters of Israel over the years; and perhaps more to the point, supporters of the Prime Minister himself. Even now he was waiting for the briefing materials he needed to review before his individual meetings with them began.
The personal touch was important and the Prime Minister realized he needed to refresh his memory about the men and women he would be seeing over the next forty-eight hours.
In reality, he had little use for these people. Like many Israelis, he believed it the duty of Jews living abroad to return to their ancestral home in the Middle East. The Prime Minister planned to use the hours ahead to stoke the guilt of those living in the diaspora and more easily separate them from some of their money.
In upper northwest Washington, Olivia Carroll was scurrying about overseeing the staff putting the final touches on the hastily arranged dinner she and her husband would be hosting later that evening.
The guest list was a bit unusual this time. It included an assortment of young men and women who ran the Washington offices of various progressive organizations; people whose support would be useful once the President nominated her husband to replace Justice Saviano.
These were not the kind of people Olivia would have invited to one of her parties ordinarily. But because they aspired to greater things and were available on short notice, Olivia and Vaughn had jointly decided they should get to know these young people better.
Putting together a list to invite on short notice had been challenging. Indeed, Olivia had been forced to rely on some young man to help identify who to invite. At the moment, however, she was having trouble recalling his name.
Sam Drury? Bill Drury?
You’ll need to get that straight before he arrives, Olivia.
In San Francisco, Franklin Saiers was trying to get out of his office early on Friday. For Franklin and Andy Saiers, the weekend would involve a trip to a cabin in rural northern California where they would spend two days together hiking and perhaps even swimming if they could tolerate the cool mountain lakes.
Judge Saiers had been a bit surprised when his son had eagerly agreed to his suggestion the previous evening that they get away from the city for the weekend. He wasn’t sure how much longer his son would want to spend time alone with him, but the Judge was determined to make the most of whatever opportunities remained.
Spending time alone with his son was one of the few remaining pleasures in life for Franklin Saiers. He loved his son and wondered whether he should even agree to be considered for Chief Justice if he was asked by the White House as media reports suggested he would be.
The Court is so political these days. What’s the point of even trying to interpret the law impartially?
At his district office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Senator Bill Cahill was getting ready to attend a dinner Friday evening at which he would be honored by the NAACP for his civil rights work and efforts to fight discrimination more generally.
On the long drive up from Washington he had thought again about his decision to tap Paul Jennings to manage the fight created by the death of Chief Justice Saviano.
Jennings was young and inexperienced in the ways of the Senate – and indeed of Washington itself. He was bright enough for the job, no doubt about it. Perhaps more importantly, he had the pulse of the younger members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle.
That was important because the younger members were becoming increasingly restless with all the in-fighting that made life in the Senate so unpleasant. Many, disgusted with partisan bickering, were quitting after a single term; at least the conscientious ones quit.
The more ambitious and self-centered ones decided to run for President instead after a couple of years on the job. Whether they were qualified or not for such a responsibility hardly mattered. Nor did it matter to most whether they succeeded or failed. Running for President would come in handy no matter the outcome.
A lot of perks came with the job if you won. If luck wasn’t with you – and for most it obviously wouldn’t be – you could always end up taking a job with some K Street lobbying firm that would pay you obscene sums of money for doing nothing at all; at least nothing that would benefit ordinary Americans.
Cahill didn’t blame his younger colleagues for being unhappy with life in the Senate. He wasn’t that happy himself anymore, but someone had to stand up to people like Morgan McBride. And that’s precisely why the Senator had been going over his decision to tap Paul Jennings for the most important assignment of his young career.
The question wasn’t whether Jennings was bright enough or had the pulse of the younger members. The question was whether he was ruthless enough to stand up to Morgan McBride. It wasn’t a part of the job he much liked, but Cahill understood there were occasionally times when you had to be ruthless.
Some politicians, like Morgan McBride, were ruthless all the time. They took a sadistic delight in savaging those who opposed them. There were others, like Jack Durning and himself, whose better angels prevailed most of the time. But even the best among them understood there were times when they had to be ruthless.
Senator Cahill recognized this was going to be one of those times, but it remained to be seen whether Paul Jennings had that killer instinct within him. Knowing what was at stake, Cahill hoped he would. It was hard to accomplish anything important in Washington without being ruthless occasionally.
At the same time, the Senator was a bit ashamed of himself for handing the good looking young Senator a thankless task; one that would almost certainly leave him far more battered, bruised and cynical about public service once the battle was over than any decent young man should be.
At the house he shared with his father in San Francisco, Andy Saiers was trying to extricate himself from the arms of the first gay friend he had ever made. Ian had been kissing him passionately, but Andy knew his father would be leaving the office early that day.
“We need to stop, Ian,” he protested, finally breaking loose. “My Dad will be home soon and I don’t want him walking in on us like this.”
“You’re no fun at all, Andy,” his older companion replied. “You need to stop getting me aroused like this and then pushing me away.”
“I wasn’t the one who started it,” Andy countered, defensively. “You asked me to help with advanced algebra before your big test on Monday. Then you sneak up from behind and start kissing me.”
“I do need your help,” Ian replied, placing his hand next to his groin and stroking his thigh suggestively.
“I’ll stop for now,” he added, “but only because I assume we’re still on for Saturday evening. Like I told you last weekend, my parents are having dinner together and then attending the ballet so we’ll have all the time in the world.”
Andy Saiers was well aware of what his companion was talking about. Ian had been after him for months to take their friendship to another level. Andy had finally agreed, if only reluctantly. He was grateful to Ian for befriending him after coming out and had thought perhaps he was ready to take things further as Ian insisted.
But as the weekend approached Andy found himself becoming more and more nervous knowing what Ian had planned; and then his Dad had suggested a visit to their cabin in northern California and Andy had quickly seized the lifeline offered to him.
He had just never found the time to tell Ian.
“Uh, no . . . I meant to mention that earlier, Ian. My father wants to go away for the weekend and I have to go with him.”
“What the fuck?” the older youth exclaimed, visibly unhappy. “You’re kidding me, Andy; right? This is the weekend we were supposed to . . . uh . . . you know . . . the weekend we were supposed to finally . . .”
“I know, Ian,” Andy apologized, contritely. “I’m sorry. It’s just that . . . .”
“Yeah, I know,” Ian interrupted, angrily. “It’s just that you’re a tease; all talk, no action. I should have known better than to believe you. You’re such a baby.”
At his townhouse on Capitol Hill, Eric Ford had just finished some chores and poured himself a glass of wine. Earlier in the day he had finished doing some research on the GOP Senators his boss was focused on.
Senator Jennings had suggested he start with Judge Carroll as the most likely nominee and see whether there was anything that connected the man to the Republicans he would be trying to persuade.
Eric had turned up a number of things that might be useful and then drafted a memo for his boss to review over the weekend. Although the memo was still a work in progress, it was a beginning and Eric was pleased with what he had learned.
He was especially happy to have discovered that Vaughn Carroll was a former Boy Scout and remained a generous patron of the organization while Senator Haley Quinn (R-Arizona) was a long-time scoutmaster with two boys who were into scouting as well.
That was precisely the kind of connection his boss was looking for and the Senator had been delighted when Eric pointed it out.
Having seen the boss off for Massachusetts, Eric left work early and headed for the Capitol Hill Gymnasium. There he had spent an hour working out vigorously, ignoring the efforts of some of the members to flirt with him. After showering, he walked home, did his chores, and sat down with his glass of wine.
On the opposite side of the room Milo sat on the floor staring at him. Eric lifted his glass to Milo in the hope of enticing the kitten to join him on the couch. But Milo just yawned and wandered away, ignoring his young master for the moment. That’s when all the frustrations began to kick in again for Eric Ford.
Some were job-related. While he enjoyed working for Senator Jennings, he had come to Washington five years earlier determined to make a difference. Now Eric wondered what he had to show for his efforts.
There had been some accomplishments, of course; small ones. Helping to secure increased funding for some of the programs he considered especially effective. Beating back Republican efforts he considered misguided or dangerous; and, of course, doing his small part to help restore balance to the various Federal courts.
But as Eric sat there alone thinking about it, there was no single accomplishment he could point to as strictly his own. He wondered again whether he should think about going back to school and getting his law degree.
Eric understood being a staffer on Capitol Hill meant credit for whatever was accomplished would accrue to his boss, not him. He didn’t have a problem with that. It was part of the deal.
But it seemed to him that partisan gridlock in Washington had made doing great things almost impossible anymore. That made going to law school a bit more attractive although the prospect of a career in law didn’t excite him very much.
And yet if his job was one source of frustration, the far bigger source was his personal life. More than anything else in the world Eric longed to love and be loved. He had hoped to find someone to spend the rest of his life with by now.
Indeed, if anything, his dream, however childish it seemed to his gay friends in Washington, appeared to be slipping away with each passing year.
The problem wasn’t being gay. To be sure, Eric had struggled with that at the Sugar Hill Academy, the exclusive private boarding school in Massachusetts he had attended growing up; and then later still at the University of Massachusetts.
But eventually, like others who struggle with that discovery, he had finally come to grips with it; indeed, had summoned the courage to come out of the closet and tell his parents. By now everyone who counted knew Eric was gay and proud.
Being gay wasn’t the problem.
The problem was, trapped in a troubled past, Eric had convinced himself by now he was incapable of carrying on a genuinely loving relationship with anyone, let alone the young men he was attracted to and most wanted to please.
Like most people, Eric had sinned and like many who sin he was consumed with guilt and the fear he would sin again; and since the sin in question had been against love itself, Eric considered himself not just incapable of love but unworthy of it as well.
The seed for this belief had been planted years earlier in Massachusetts and then nurtured and reinforced throughout his five years in Washington. Indeed, it was in Washington where Eric discovered no one believed in love anymore; that love was dead.
Washingtonians were consumed by the quest for more tangible things; money, power, and sex, most notably.
What was love after all?
Could love be counted like money or used to acquire what was desired? Could it be hoarded or exercised like power? Was it as intense or exciting as sex?
If it existed at all – and most Washingtonians doubted that – love was something ethereal, intangible, and tenuous at best; something suitable for poets perhaps but of no use at all to those who dealt in affairs of state.
And so with each passing day, however subtly, a message was sent and love seemed to slip further and further away from Eric’s grasp.
It would be a mistake to assume Eric understood all of this perfectly, of course.
In many ways everything about love was confusing for Eric; and yet for all his confusion he continued to cling to the idea of love no matter how incapable he was of loving or unworthy of being loved.
Even for those who consider themselves hopeless, hope springs eternal in the deepest recesses of the heart.
And so, sitting alone in his townhouse in Washington on a Friday evening, Eric once again allowed his mind to drift back to an earlier time in the hope that perhaps the outcome would prove different this time.
It was his senior year at the Sugar Hill Academy in the Berkshire Mountains. Sugar Hill was one of the last all-male prep schools in the United States at the time although it had recently affiliated with an equally exclusive all-girls school nearby.
Talk of merger was in the air back then, but the alumni were still resisting taking that step and the alumni counted for everything at the Sugar Hill Academy.
Sugar, sweet Sugar, as the boys affectionately called the place, was the kind of school that prided itself on turning boys into men through a combination of sports and academics.
The academics were never a problem for Eric. He ranked in the top one percent of his class consistently, a point of pride for his parents who hoped he would go on to Harvard.
Athletics had been a bit more of a challenge and that was a problem because, if anything, athletics were held in higher regard than academics at the Sugar Hill Academy. The alumni demanded winning teams and it was their gifts that kept the Academy afloat.
Because he was somewhat taller than his classmates at the time, Eric had been pushed into basketball by the school’s leaders. He wasn’t the star of the team by any means. That distinction belonged to Hudson Campbell. All of the boys looked to Hudson for leadership. Even the coach of the team deferred to Hudson.
Eric knew he was gay by the end of his freshman year, but Sugar was one of those schools where the cult of masculinity was all pervasive. Realizing that, he had kept his secret to himself and tried to blend in.
It helped that there wasn’t a specific boy Eric was attracted to; at least it had helped until his senior year when a young sophomore named Gene Aldridge had transferred in and joined the basketball team.
Soon enough it was apparent to everyone that Gene was the best player on the team, even better than Hudson. Unlike Hudson, moreover, Gene was a fun loving boy with a winning smile who made friends easily.
Eric was attracted to the young sophomore in a powerful way.
Sometimes, when he could do so discreetly, he watched Gene shower after one of their practices. Eric had to be careful about that because the boy’s lean, hairless body turned Eric on in a way that produced all too predictable results. Eric was thankful for the jock he wore beneath his basketball shorts at times like that.
He quickly noticed Gene routinely stayed after practice to work on his game, often for hours at a time. Soon enough Eric was joining him on the court. In addition to being friendly and outgoing, Gene was a natural leader and Eric was quick to fall under his spell.
The two young men became friends, often walking a couple of miles to a nearby river where they would climb on to the rocks, sit down, and then talk for hours about everything under the sun as the water rushed past.
It was the most exciting time in Eric’s young life.
Eric knew he was attracted to Gene sexually, but he had never given the slightest hint of that to his friend. Part of it was because Eric was shy and socially awkward. But the bigger part was the cult of masculinity that pervaded Sugar.
Gene was as masculine as they came and Eric didn’t want to risk his friendship with the boy by confessing he was different. And then it happened one evening. Hudson Campbell had called a team meeting of the boys on the basketball team; all of the boys except Gene that is.
He had waived a piece of paper in the air and told them it was a letter to the headmaster asking permission to form a gay-straight alliance club at Sugar. Not just any letter but a letter signed by Gene Aldridge on behalf of himself and three other gay students who wished to remain anonymous.
It had come as a shock to everyone, not least of all Eric. He could hardly believe what he was hearing. But then Hudson had brought them back to reality and insisted a line had to be drawn.
“That little cocksucker has probably been checking us out in the showers. I’m not going to put up with it; not on this team, not at this school. We need to tell Coach we’re not going to play for the team unless he gets rid of that faggot. Who’s with me?”
One by one the boys fell in line as Hudson went around the room and demanded an answer; and then it was Eric’s turn.
“What about you, Ford? Are you with us?”
“Uh, well, I understand why it bothers you, Hudson, but I’m not sure the school can do something like that. It might be against the law to kick someone off the team just because . . . because, uh . . . you know . . . just because they’re homosexual.”
“Listen, Ford, your father may be a hot shot lawyer, but we’re talking about a fag here. The school can’t force us to play on a team with a pervert; and there’s no way in hell they’ll be able to get anyone else to play if we don’t. We’re the only decent players. If we quit, there won’t be a team; and if there isn’t a team the alumni will go crazy and put an end to this nonsense.”
“Forget the legal shit, dude. Are you with us or not?”
Reluctantly, Eric agreed to sign the letter Hudson had drafted demanding Gene’s removal from the team. It produced a huge uproar. Being the Sugar Hill Academy, there were meetings, protests and much talking; and then finally the headmaster had empowered the coach to make the final decision.
He had called a team meeting; told everyone he couldn’t force Gene to quit because that was illegal and would land the school in hot water. But then he had asked Gene to quit voluntarily for the good of the team; told him he wouldn’t have asked if a single one of his teammates was willing to play with Gene, but none of them were.
“Are you sure, Coach?” the boy responded. “If these guys tell me they don’t want me on the team because I’m a faggot, I’ll quit. But I’m not going to quit unless all of them tell me that to my face.”
With that the Coach went around the room and asked each of the boys whether they wanted Gene to stay or go. By the time he reached Eric no one had changed their mind.
“What about you, Eric?” the coach asked. “Should Gene stay or go?”
“Uh, well, I, uh . . . I have nothing against Gene, but, um, I just think it wouldn’t be very much fun for him to play on a team when the rest of the guys don’t want him. Maybe we could . . .
“Come on, Eric. I’m not asking for the Gettysburg Address here,” the Coach interrupted. “Stay or quit; which is it?”
“Quit,” Eric responded, staring down at the floor to avoid Gene’s eyes.
Later Eric would visit the place where he and Gene liked to hang out. He was surprised when Gene showed up not very long after he arrived.
“Thanks for the support,” the boy said, staring disdainfully at Eric.
“Uh, well, look Gene, I’m sorry, but I was trying to do you a favor and . . .”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Eric,” Gene interrupted. “You were doing the easy thing for yourself because you’re gay and don’t want anyone to know. I know you’re gay, but never pressed you on it because I thought it’d be better if you came out on your own.”
“Here’s what I think, Eric. I admire Hudson in a way. He’s a good player and stands up for what he believes even if what he believes is bigoted. But at least he’s man enough to stand up for what he believes.”
“I don’t know what you believe, Eric, but you’re not a man. You’re a gutless coward.”