Monday, December 14, 2054

Chapter Fourteen

Adelaide Rotholz couldn't remember being angrier. When Carmichael had appeared in her office, he'd had a smug look on his face. He'd also had two security guards backing him up. Rotholz had had the giddy thought that this was the first time she could remember someone being physically afraid of her, and it felt pretty good. Carmichael had delivered the edict and the guards had each taken one arm to escort her from the building. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so pathetic.

At the moment Carmichael had made his majestic entrance, Rotholz had been in the process of trying to decide which sympathetic reporter she'd call on. She'd known that with one planted question in the next day's scheduled photo-op, President Harper would have been able to put the whole Harkness business behind him. All that was necessary was an opportunity for Harper to be magnanimous and funny; "off the cuff". As far as Rotholz had been concerned, the problem rated less than a fart on the Richter scale. She'd solved much more difficult problems without breaking a sweat.

Now, she was sitting at home brooding. Earlier in the day, she'd watched the press conference live on C-Span. Instead of solving the "Harkness Problem", it was now worse. Rotholz had planned to have Harper laugh off the whole thing without saying anything remotely derogatory about Harkness. After all, the man was a hero (we just said so), and insulting him was sure to alienate more than a few voters.

During the press conference, Addie had watched in horror as the NBC correspondent, David Gregory asked, "Mr. President. How do you respond to Paul Harkness' assertion that all of the candidates, yourself included, are no more qualified for the job than he is?"

Of course, the question had been anticipated. On the advice of some idiot, President Harper had responded, "While I don't wish to besmirch the image of a man who so recently performed such heroic deeds, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that some facts have come to light regarding Mr. Harkness that paint a somewhat less glowing picture of the man. Now, I don't intend to go into detail, but I will say that the opinions of such a man should be taken with a grain of salt."

The President had than steadfastly refused to respond to any other questions on the subject. The press conference ground on for another highly unsatisfying fifteen minutes and then just sputtered out.

Rotholz seethed at the stupidity. The President had done the worst thing possible. He'd given the story a new life instead of killing it. Who in their right minds thought you could infer that Harkness had secrets and then expect the press to walk away from the story.

As the evening dragged on, she mulled her own options for the future. First, she came around to the obvious realization that the President's problems were no longer any of her concern. Regardless of what others might think, she hadn't created the problem and the only reason it wasn't a dead issue was that Carmichael had gotten rid of her instead of letting her do her job. Well, Fuck Him.

Unlike Tom Douglas, she was not, by nature, a vengeful person. She had no problem with getting back at people, but for her, revenge had to be a byproduct of some other achievement. She didn't consider herself morally above it all; she just knew, that for her, success was the best revenge. If, in the course of pulling herself up the ladder, she discovered some way of knocking off the backstabbing sonofabitch who'd walked all over her, so be it. But she wasn't the type to drag the sonofabitch down if it meant they'd both be rolling around in the mud together.

She knew that her possibilities were limited more by what interested her than by what jobs might be available. Unlike many professions, being out with one camp in politics did not translate into being out of politics. At her level, allegiance wasn't a major issue; ability was what counted. She also knew that in a town like D.C., word would get out that Douglas was the one who'd dropped the hammer. Most people wouldn't hold that against her and quite a few would consider it a badge of honor. She'd have offers to choose from.

The problem, as she saw it, was to find a job that had a future, and one she could stand doing every day. Even though the campaign season was getting into high gear, she really couldn't stomach any of the candidates other than Harper, so that avenue was closed to her. Rotholz had never been a huge fan of Harper, but she didn't dis-like him either. The reason she had gone to work for Harper was that Alan Gardner had wanted her. And Gardner was a man worth working for. Unfortunately, Douglas trumped Gardner by a wide margin, so she was out. End of story.

She briefly considered trying to get a job with one of the networks, but quickly abandoned the idea. She knew that she didn't have the stature to get on-air face time yet.

In addition to that reality, she'd come to realize that her interests didn't lie in reporting the new, but in making it. She didn't mind being behind the scenes. She liked knowing that an event was playing out the way she had designed it. She liked it even more when the event was received the way she'd planned, which happened more often than not. She was quite good at her work and she knew her assessment was based in reality, not ego. She was beginning to feel a little better. She had enough money to see her comfortably through about six months before she'd need to start being concerned. She was confident that the right opportunity would present itself if she was patient.

Hell, this was the perfect opportunity to get out of Tim Pratt's life and townhouse. Before she'd met him he'd parlayed family money into a successful private gallery. He didn't have very discerning taste. In fact, he probably didn't know Andrew Wyeth from Mort Walker, but that didn't hold him back. His clients told him what they wanted and he went out and got it for them in exchange for obscene amounts of money. The one qualification he brought to the enterprise was that his family name opened a lot of doors. Sometimes she thought what she did was crass, but compared to Tim, she was the height of taste and refinement.

A creature of habit, at 11:30, she turned on Nightline. Chris Bury was doing a follow-up story looking at the UN peacekeeping operation in Syria. Six months earlier, Syria had grown delusional and tried to grab back the Golan Heights from Israel. Assad had seemed genuinely shocked when Israel counter-attacked so quickly and decisively. After two weeks of hostilities, Israel occupied an additional wedge of territory reaching three quarters of the way toward Damascus. Assad had grudgingly agreed to a cease-fire in place, while the U.N. could sort out who'd get what in the end. The Peacekeeping force wasn't so much to keep Syria in line since Assad had already stretched his forces to the breaking point. The real problem was a series of incursions by Hezbollah militias staging out of Lebanon. The place was a Godawful mess, as usual.

At the end of the show, Bury did a one-minute follow-up on the Paul Harkness story, relying heavily on footage from the President's press conference earlier in the day. Although his demeanor was all business, a savvy observer had no trouble seeing the glee he took in reporting the catfight. It might be a fairly inconsequential story, but it was going to be one with legs.

Addie didn't watch a lot of entertainment shows, but she usually switched to the last half-hour of Letterman after Nightline ended. As she switched stations, Letterman was going to commercial. The announcer said, "When we come back, the finalists from the Eastern Region Dupont Science Competition; And later in the show; Paul Harkness".

This was the first time Addie had bothered to consider Harkness' place in her current situation. In her current mood, she decided that a.) Harkness hadn't said anything that horrible, b.) the problem would have been over by now if Douglas had let things alone, and c.) she had really liked the guy when she met him.

Insider Washington, with its myopic view of the world, thought of Harkness as a political lightweight, when the truth was that he wasn't any kind of political animal. He was just some guy who'd done something incredibly brave and now he was being keel-hauled by a bunch of people who would have done nothing in his place.

Rotholz no longer cared that being pushed aside had prevented her from helping the President keep from making an ass of himself over the Harkness business. She was, however, becoming increasingly angry that Harkness was going to be raked over the coals. He deserved better and he probably had no idea what was coming.

Roltholz paid no attention to the Science Fair finalists. Instead, she was dreading the upcoming Harkness segment, knowing the poor guy was about to be thrown in way too deep. Letterman was certainly not above letting people embarrass themselves if it was good for a laugh, and having been the one to suggest the medal, Addie was feeling partially responsible for what was about to happen.

The segment began.

Addie watched as Paul made his entrance. He looks calm. Confident. The crowd certainly likes him.

Paul sat down after shaking hands with Dave and Tom Selleck. Dave greeted him. Paul choked...couldn't answer. Damn, the guy's falling apart before he even gets started.

Dave rescued the moment joking about beverages. Letterman doesn't always go to the trouble of putting his guests at ease. Classy move. First question. "What was that all about"? O.K. He's was just relaxing the guy to set him up for the kill. I should have seen that coming.

Harkness responded. "Well, I've heard what President Harper had to say about me today, and I have to admit to being more than a little surprised. However, regardless of what he may have said today, I still owe the President and all of you an apology for my behavior yesterday. I should have accepted the medal graciously and said 'thank you', Period". Holy Shit! He's taking the high road. And Harper's gonna come off like a petulant third-grader.

Dave didn't let him off the hook. He wants to provoke a confrontation. Harkness looks like a deer in the headlights...and came out with a fairly lame comeback.

Dave pushes again. Harkness admits he was being glib and follows with a fairly reasoned response about the process pandering and candidates following bad advice. No points for or against on content, nothing new there. 10 points against him for boring the audience.

Letterman asks him to be specific. C'mon Dave, give the guy a break.

Harkness came back with, "Well President Harper would certainly be happier if he'd never met me". Cute. He's got the audience back.

Letterman pushes again. Don't take the bait, Paul. He wants politics and you ain't no politician.

Harkness started talking about Clinton and the Slavery Apology. Who coached this guy? When I interviewed with Gardner, I told him I'd tried to get to Clinton's people with pretty much the same idea and he said it would have been the right approach.

Letterman's audience is actually thinking! They came for laughs and this guy's got them totally absorbed in a political discussion.

Letterman tried once more to get Harkness to say something rude about the President. Paul took the bait. Served up the President's own line. Perfect response! This guy's fantastic. And the crowd is eating it up.

Rotholz turned off the show and sat back, trying to bring into focus an idea that was swirling around her brain. Before going to bed, she called Jackson Duffield's producer. Duffield had been hosting a local Sunday morning political show for the last 23 years. The networks had courted him since the beginning, but he'd persistently turned them down and become something of an institution in the process. There was no-one in D.C. who turned down a slot on Duffield's show. "If I can arrange it, will you put him on the show?...No, let's keep my name out of it for the moment......Its just a little experiment I want to run...Thanks, bye".

Addie went to bed feeling the best she'd felt all day. She just might not have to be so patient after all.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

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Someone searching for "Stories about fucking Tom Selleck" has found their way to this site. Whoever it was stuck around for 17 minutes.