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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.
New York is often called the city that never sleeps, but much the same could be said of Washington, D.C. and perhaps with more justification. Washington is the place where problems go in search of solutions only the seat of government can provide; and since problems can make their appearance at any hour of the night or day, there is never any end to the work of those who spend their lives toiling selflessly in the nation’s capital on behalf of the American people.
In a strange twist, however, hardly any of the problems Washington is called upon to address ever seem to be definitively resolved. Like the seasons, they come and go in an endless procession of repetitive cycles. A justice of the Supreme Court dies, only to be replaced by someone who will serve in that capacity for a number of years before eventually dying as well and being replaced by still another.
Unlike many places, however, Washington is quite accomplished when it comes to addressing multiple problems at the same time. While one simmers, another boils; and it is that capacity to switch easily from dealing with one problem to another that makes the nation’s capital distinctive perhaps.
Hence it was with the vacancy created by the death of the Chief Justice, Anthony Saviano. Having settled on five potential replacements for the man, the President and the rest of Washington stepped back from the precipice and allowed the FBI to begin vetting the candidates.
That would take several weeks at the very least. In the interim, the city moved on to other issues believed as compelling as that of replacing a Chief Justice; and to the kind of jockeying for position that all involved believed might strengthen their hand once the vetting process was done, of course.
In other words, until the President actually got around to nominating a successor, which everyone understood was still weeks away, there wasn’t a lot Eric Ford or anyone else could do. But that didn’t mean the young congressional staffer wasn’t busy during the interim.
He was very busy indeed. Like his Republican counterparts and others with a stake in the nomination, he was dragged into an endless round of meetings, briefings, and strategy sessions that dealt with the pending vacancy.
Ordinarily there would have been considerable speculation and gossip at those gatherings about who the President would ultimately select. But in this case most knowledgeable Washingtonians were still betting Chief Judge Vaughn Carroll would ultimately be tapped for the job.
Hence the meetings, briefings, and strategy sessions were mostly spent trying to figure out what could be done to advance or hinder his nomination if that turned out to be the case; Republicans focused on hindering, Democrats on advancing, the man’s likely nomination.
To put it another way, these were the kind of weeks in the nation’s capital where you welcomed their end because you knew you had been busy and needed a break. But if you stopped and thought about it too much, you might find yourself wondering what you had actually done to be so tired.
Put more simply, unlike many places in America, the lull before the storm is hardly ever appreciated in Washington.
Weeks later in Baltimore, Maryland, Richie Remillard was holding his breath early one Friday evening. He had worried all day his boss might summon him to his office at the very last moment and tell him he needed to work the night shift again.
Mr. Florini had been doing that repeatedly ever since the other weekend busboy, Ray, had suddenly quit. On each occasion his boss had promised Richie he would be given the next weekend off, only to have to apologize the following Friday when it turned out he had been unable to find a suitable replacement.
That had forced Richie to call Aaron several times to cancel their planned trip to Washington. But on this particular Friday evening luck turned out to be with the hard-working lad. Mr. Florini finally told Richie he had succeeded in finding a replacement for Ray and could indeed have the weekend off.
Richie was thankful for that. Bussing dishes was a lot harder than most people realized, especially when you were pulling double shifts on the weekend. Not that Richie would have ever complained. He was thankful to have any job, even a job that didn’t pay very much.
But he had been working hard for many weeks now and needed a break; and what better way to begin the weekend than by visiting Washington with Aaron? It was something Richie was looking forward to with anticipation.
On Capitol Hill, Eric Ford looked in the mirror after taking a shower and dressing. He had important plans for the evening and wanted to look presentable. Satisfied he did, he locked his townhouse, maneuvered his car on to the road, and headed for the downtown location where he planned to spend much of the evening.
As he approached his destination Eric suddenly realized he had forgotten to feed Milo.
No wonder the damn cat doesn’t like me.
He could have returned home, of course, but decided not to. While he didn’t have any plans for most of the weekend, his Friday evening and Saturday morning had been set months earlier when the planning committee on which he served set the date for the Walk and 5K to End HIV; an event better known to D.C. residents as AIDS Walk Washington.
Held for years dating back to the previous century, the Walk was the signature fundraiser for Whitman-Walker Health. A lot of planning and work went into the event, one designed to get Washingtonians to strap on their shoes and walk or run to support Whitman-Walker’s mission.
In simple terms, that mission was one of providing dependable, high-quality, comprehensive and accessible health care to those infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. Even now, five years after arriving in Washington, it was still Eric’s favorite charity.
Indeed, the Walk itself had become something of an obsession for him. He had served on the volunteer planning committee since arriving in Washington and invested hundreds of hours annually in making the event a success.
Financially, it still was, but participation had been declining for many years. That bothered Eric and other members of the committee. They had held countless meetings and considered many ideas to reverse the trend.
Other members of the committee had been skeptical initially when Eric suggested asking the many local gay bars and restaurants in Washington to host booths the night before the Walk.
He argued the booths would boost sagging participation by reminding the Friday night crowd that the Walk was taking place the following morning and their support and participation was needed to assure its success.
Placed near the entrance to the many different venues that hosted them, they could also provide an assortment of services; free condoms and information about HIV and AIDS, for example. They would also become a place where you could pre-register for the event or make a contribution if you weren’t planning to attend or participate.
People had liked the idea when Eric suggested it, but knew it would take a lot of volunteers to man all the booths. But he had persuaded them to take a chance. Whatever his failings Eric was committed to making a difference in life and had spent many hours lining up and training the needed volunteers.
In the beginning, he had manned a booth himself, but by now his job had been transformed into more of a managerial one; lining up companies to sponsor and pay for the booths, coordinating their delivery and removal from different locations around the city, and enlisting the many volunteers needed to staff them.
That wasn’t easy. People didn’t like giving up part of their Friday evenings sitting around in a booth rather than dancing and having fun. Once, when Eric had asked Mark Cassidy to man a booth, his friend had rolled his eyes and declined.
“Oh please, Eric; that’s so 1980s.”
In spite of that and the many other daunting challenges involved, the booths had turned out to be a popular innovation. They brought in new people who might not otherwise participate in the Walk. They raised money as well; and they served as still another way of helping educate people about HIV and AIDS.
Having arrived at his destination, Eric surveyed the command center he was still technically in charge of but no longer managed. The small staff that coordinated the night’s activities was already hard at work and would remain so for the rest of the evening.
“How’s everything going?” Eric asked the deputy he had personally trained and who now managed booth night as it was called.
“Great, Eric,” she replied. “I mean, like always, there’ve been the usual assortment of glitches; mostly people promising to man a booth and then not showing up. It seems like we’ve had more of those this year, but that’s why we have people here ready to fill in as needed.”
“I’m actually trying to get a backup right now for the eight to midnight shift at Boys & Toys, but so far no takers. It’s not in the best part of town so no one is anxious to take that on. But I’m still working on it.”
“I can fill in if you want,” Eric volunteered.
“But you’re the project manager,” his deputy responded.
“I may still be the project manager in name, Melanie, but you do most of the actual work tonight. I feel like a fifth wheel sitting around this place twiddling my thumbs. It might be fun to actually man a booth again.”
“I used to do that in the old days,” he added, “and I was always able to persuade at least one person to participate in the Walk who hadn’t planned to do so. It’d be fun to see if I still have the touch.”
“Are you sure, Eric?” his deputy responded. “It won’t be the end of the world if that booth goes unmanned for a couple of hours. We still have the final shift covered and that’s when the place gets busy after all.”
“You never know, Melanie,” Eric countered. “That place attracts a lot of money on the weekends and I don’t like the idea of leaving a booth unmanned in any event. I’m not too important to do something like that. All of us should be willing to fill in wherever needed. So, yeah, Melanie; pencil me in. I’ll take that shift.”
As he headed across town to man the booth he had just volunteered for, Eric was having second thoughts. He understood it was chance that was bringing him to his new destination; that there was no way to predict in advance which volunteers would fail to show up.
If he had to fill in somewhere, however, Boys & Toys would not have been his first choice. That wasn’t because it was located in one of the seamier sections of town, a place many volunteers were wary about visiting. Unlike some others, Eric could take care of himself and was comfortable venturing into that part of D.C.
What bothered him was the place was a dive, but a dive that had held a strange fascination for him over the years. The bar itself didn’t have a big dance floor, the best lighting and sound systems, or even employ very good deejays. But it had something most of the other D.C. bars didn’t have on the weekends.
Boys & Toys had boys, tons of boys, all of them beautiful; the kind of boys Eric was powerfully attracted to. Many were students at one of the local colleges and universities. George Washington University and AU (American University) were especially well represented.
Surprisingly, however, there were usually quite a few boys from Georgetown and Catholic Universities as well on the weekend; Howard University and UDC, the two historically black colleges and universities, much less so. Gallaudet was also occasionally represented, but you had to be able to sign with those boys and Eric still wasn’t proficient enough to feel comfortable doing that.
Most of the rest of the boys at the place were young hustlers from small towns all over the mid-Atlantic region who had made their way to the nation’s capital in search of something better than could be found in their hometowns; or at least something different.
Usually they hung out at some of the other bars in town, the even sleazier ones; bars where they could rent their mouths out to older men for a few bucks, some drugs, or a place to stay for the evening.
The only thing the two sets of boys had in common was that they were beautiful. But other than that and wanting to have some fun on a Friday evening, they were different. And yet, different as they were, they often ended up mimicking one another.
The college boys would often try to dress like the hustlers, dance like them, and even flirt like them because college was expensive after all and Mom and Dad could be tight with the money needed to have fun in the city.
Washington was an expensive place to live after all; and since there was never enough money from home, why not combine business with pleasure by earning a few bucks on the weekend?
By contrast, the hustlers who spent Friday and Saturday evenings at Boys & Toys often tried to pass themselves off as students because they were interested in upgrading their clienteles or finding a sugar daddy; anyone, really, who could help them get off their knees.
That’s where the rest of the men who visited the bar came in; people like Eric who were still young, had good jobs, and more money than they knew what to do with. You hardly ever saw anyone over thirty at Boys & Toys, but there were lots of dudes in their twenties who liked the younger atmosphere of the place.
A few were willing to pay cash on the barrelhead for whatever they fancied. Like Eric, most weren’t; which isn’t to say they couldn’t be generous in their own way. If you found the right boy for the weekend you’d be only too happy to pay for tickets to movies or sporting events; only too willing to pay for the meal at the restaurant that was considered the happening place in town that weekend.
Assuming you could get in, of course.
And certainly only too happy to pay for whatever drinks the boys were consuming. Drinks were a cheap price to pay for companionship on the weekend after all.
As he took his place in the booth at Boys & Toys that Friday evening, Eric shook his head. Having done this for years, he wondered whether anything would come from his efforts. HIV and AIDS no longer commanded the attention they once had.
Maybe Mark’s right.
Maybe events like the Walk are relics of a bygone era.
Putting that thought out of mind, Eric took comfort knowing he was doing a good deed, not wasting time in another fruitless effort to find someone to sleep with. Once his shift was over at midnight, he planned to go home and get some rest so he could be up early for the Walk the following morning.
That’s the important thing; helping people, not being selfish.
Across town several hours later in Washington’s largest and most jam-packed gay club, Richie Remillard’s older friend, Aaron, posed a question to his younger companion.
“I guess,” Richie replied, without much enthusiasm.
“That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement,” Aaron said. “Is something wrong?”
“Not really, Aaron. Maybe it’s just me or maybe I’m tired. I mean, we’ve been to this place several times and I did like it at first. But now I don’t know. It seems kind of boring.”
“What do you mean, Richie? There are hundreds of guys here. It has more dance floors than any place in D.C. – or Baltimore for that matter. The deejays are great. They have this place rocking. What more could you ask for?”
“Like I said, its fine, Aaron,” Richie replied, trying to reassure his friend. “It’s still early. Maybe it’ll pick up in a while. The point is, if you like this place, we should stay. I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for you. Thank you again for inviting me.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t have driven all the way up here if I had known you think this place is boring. Like you said, we’ve been here a couple of times and I thought you liked it. Is there somewhere else you’d rather go? I don’t mind.”
“These places are all beginning to look the same,” Richie responded. “But one of the dudes I was dancing with earlier mentioned a place across town that’s fun; kind of wild, actually, is what he said.”
What Richie didn’t mention was he had been told the crowd at the place was a younger one.
“Why don’t we go there then,” Aaron suggested, eager to please the boy. “Did you get an address I can plug into my GPS?”
“I did, but we shouldn’t go there if you like it better here, Aaron.”
“Like I said, I don’t care, Richie. I’m up for trying someplace different.”
With that settled the two made their way to the exit and departed.
“Did you see that booth by the front door?” Richie asked once they were outside.
“Not really,” Aaron replied.
“There was a similar booth in that first place we visited tonight,” Richie continued. “I don’t recall seeing them when we were here before. I was wondering if you knew what they’re all about.”
“Sorry; I can’t help, Richie,” Aaron said, unlocking his car. “I didn’t notice either one. Did you get the name of this place you want to go to?”
“I did,” Richie responded. “It’s called Boys & Toys.”
“Boys & Toys?” Aaron said, laughing. “I swear this city has the craziest names for bars I’ve ever heard.”
“Crazier than Club Bunns?” Richie countered, mentioning the name of a mostly African American club in Baltimore Aaron had once taken him to.
“Okay; maybe Boys & Toys isn’t so crazy after all, Richie.”
I forgot how boring manning the early shift at one of these booths can be, Eric Ford said to himself as he surveyed Boys & Toys.
His assigned hours had passed uneventfully for Eric. Initially hardly anyone was at the place. Later, as it began to fill up, a steady stream of younger boys made their way to the booth in search of the free condoms, often amusing themselves in the process by discussing the multiple colors available and bantering with Eric about which color he recommended.
While that helped relieve the tedium, Eric was bothered that none of the boys took the literature he offered. Because it would be embarrassing to admit ignorance, all of them claimed they knew all about safe sex or were on the pill and had no need for what Eric was peddling.
That didn’t surprise him. It was typical, but it bothered Eric nonetheless. D.C. was still a hot spot for HIV and AIDS and even more so for other sexually transmitted diseases, including new drug-resistant strains of oral gonorrhea.
But realizing it wouldn’t do any good to lecture the boys, Eric confined himself to liberally distributing the condoms.
Occasionally someone a bit older would wander by and stuff a dollar or two into the jar set aside for that. In spite of his best efforts, however, none pre-registered for the event the following morning or said they planned to attend.
That was discouraging.
As midnight approached Eric debated whether to stay at Boys & Toys once he finished his shift. He wasn’t out of place there by any means, but his experience with Mark weeks earlier was still fresh in his mind.
How many times do you have to go through that experience before you realize it always ends the same way, Eric? You never go home with anyone when you cruise these places. You should have never agreed to go bar hopping with Mark that evening.
He’s right. You need to learn how to flirt. You need to be friendlier, more outgoing. You need to stop sending off negative vibes.
Why do you even bother coming to places like this on the weekends?
And yet Eric knew the reason all too well.
He went to the bars because he was lonely and wanted to fall in love.
By now, however, he was becoming resigned to that never happening. For all the good things he had done in his life, Eric Ford still considered himself unworthy of love for what he had done to Gene Aldridge.
While Eric was lost in self-reflection as he waited for his turn at the booth to end, he didn’t realize his eyes were doing what they always did in the bars. They were scanning the place searching for someone that interested them.
Indeed, without Eric even realizing it, they had already settled on a newly arrived boy on the dance floor they considered incredibly cute indeed.
Eric wasn’t yet consciously aware he was gazing at the boy, but the boy himself, Richie Remillard, was very aware of the young man in the booth staring at him from across the bar. Whoever he was, he was very good looking; at least that’s what Richie thought as he and Aaron danced up a storm on the small dance floor.
Richie was aware of this because he had already felt his groin stir while passing the booth when he arrived at the place and spied the dude sitting inside. That wasn’t especially unusual. Soon to be nineteen years old, Richie was a boy easily aroused.
Nor was it unusual that someone was staring at him. By now Richie was used to men doing that. Men seemed to like him a lot and Richie was still inexperienced enough to find their attention flattering. Usually the men who stared at him so intensely were much older, however.
That was pretty much always the case in southwestern Virginia where he had grown up; and it was mostly true in Baltimore as well because Aaron usually took him to bars that catered to older men in Charm City.
Richie had met a few boys and young men around his own age since moving to Baltimore. He had even fallen for one pretty hard, Tommy Coles. But Tommy had always been preoccupied with his daily search for a high so it wasn’t until Aaron had taken him to the bars and clubs in Washington that Richie noticed younger men seemed attracted to him as well.
While the man staring at him in Boys & Toys was only a few years older at best, Richie was surprised at just how intently the man was staring. Usually the men in Washington who stared at him were more careful to avoid being obvious about it than this man was being.
His eyes had been on Richie for a long time although there was something about his demeanor Richie found confusing. Instead of winking or smiling or using one of his fingers to summon Richie as other men did, the young man Richie was staring at seemed almost entirely passive when it came to pursuing what his eyes were so obviously interested in.
“Do you see that dude behind the booth near the entrance over there?” Richie asked Aaron, maneuvering his dance partner so he could get a better glimpse of the young man he was talking about.
“Yeah; I see him,” Aaron replied. “What about him?”
“He’s been staring at me for, like, twenty minutes,” Richie said.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Richie, a lot of men in these bars have been staring at you tonight.”
“Not as long as this one though,” Richie said. “And, the thing is, he’s totally hot. Don’t you think I’m right about that, Aaron? That he’s hot.”
“You are, Richie,” Aaron said. “He’s very good looking. Do you like him?”
“Kind of,” Richie responded, trying not to let on just how much he was attracted to the stranger in the booth.
That was because he doubted anything would come of it.
“He seems . . . I dunno . . . very masculine. He doesn’t seem very aggressive though. It’s like he’s off in his own little world over there. Do you think he’s high?”
“Who knows?” Aaron responded, aware by now Richie’s interest was more than just passing. “He’s probably bored from having to spend all his time in that booth instead of out here having fun with the rest of us. Or maybe he’s like all of these dudes in Washington, a narcissist.”
“What’s a nar, uh . . . a narcissist?” Richie asked, trying to pronounce the word correctly.
One of the things Richie liked was learning new words.
After Aaron had finished explaining, still another question occurred to Richie.
“The sign above that booth says AIDS Walk. What’s that all about, Aaron?”
“We have a similar event in Baltimore,” the older man responded, “but usually somewhat later in the year. I’ve never participated. Why don’t you ask him yourself? He can explain it better than me.”
Pondering that momentarily, Richie decided that was an excellent idea. Not only would he learn more about AIDS Walk, he was hoping he would learn more about the hot dude manning the booth.