Sunday, December 20, 2054

Chapter Nine

The reception was mercifully short. Most of the VIP corps ducked out early. A few stayed and introduced themselves, but their bearing indicated that they thought I might be contagious. Andrews, the truck driver had the good grace to at least be embarrassed at his own presence and kept to himself in a corner. The Jessups, naturally, still loved me and gushed appreciatively. The President had pressing business and didn’t attend.

About five minutes into the reception, Rachel, with mother in tow, approached me. Rachel was still trying to rein in her giggles as Mom said, “Paul, in a single moment, you’ve managed to make me, the most incredibly proud woman on earth, and at the same time, I’m mortified that anyone knows we’re related. I always knew you’d grow up to be special.”

Rachel finally lost it and collapsed, giggling hysterically into my arms. At that moment, I looked across the room to see Tom Douglas entering. He brought to mind a charging rhino, the guests fleeing to clear a path for him. Before this vision had firmly registered with me, I felt a hand take my arm in a vice-like grip. Darrell propelled me across the room in the opposite direction and quickly out to a waiting car.

Speeding out of the nearest gate, I turned to Darrell and said, “Thanks for the save. He looked like he could have killed me. Is this going to get you into trouble”?

Darrell said, “No, and you’re welcome, but I did it to save Douglas from himself. I’ve been in the White House since this administration first took over and I have never seen Douglas so pissed off. When he clams down, he’ll realize I saved him from being tomorrow’s headline above the fold. He won’t thank me for it, but he won’t hold it against me either. In the meantime, I think I’ll just take the rest of the day off.

“How about lunch...on me?” I asked.

“Sounds alright by me”.

We ended up at a little pub in Georgetown. It was one of the last working class joints in the area and Wainright said he’d been going there since first coming to Washington. The bartender welcomed him like an old friend as we took a quiet table near the back.

The food was great, shepherd’s pie for me; bangers and mash for Darrell. The beer was served warm, English style, and it complemented the food perfectly. It also suited my mood. The conversation was friendly but punctuated by long silences. I found myself studying Wainright. I was intrigued by the contradictions in him. He couldn’t have been older than 30 or 31, at most. He was a tall black man with a distinctly WASP name and two distinct personalities, one open and friendly, the other formal and forbidding. He was young, but obviously had an excellent understanding of Beltway personalities. In spite of his youth, he seemed supremely confident, but without the ego to go along with it.

I must have been staring because he looked at me and said a simple, “What”.

“I’m just trying to figure you out. What’s your story”?

He laughed easily and said, “Well first of all, once they get the balls, the first question everyone asks is where I got the name. My great grandfather’s mother was a slave on a Kentucky plantation. The Massa was his father, so he adopted the name. It was fairly common in those days. I’m sure it served me well when I was applying to the Ivy League.

“That’s not what I was wondering about. We’re sitting here having a very comfortable conversation, but I can see you checking the door constantly. You do this thing where you pop to attention even though I never hear any screaming ‘Officer on Deck’.”

He smiled and said, “I was a marine. Spent 4 years in after graduation to help pay my college loans. As far as lapsing into that mode, its instinctive. I’ve got a pretty good nose for hidden agendas, so whenever I pick up a bogey on my radar, the Marine comes to attention. And nobody fucks with the U.S. Marines”.

I digested that for a moment and then he asked me, “So what was that all about at the ceremony? Didn’t anyone ever teach anything about self-preservation, not to mention tact? Couldn’t you have just gone with the flow and popped out a little white lie? It’s not like someone’s check up on how you end up voting.”

“I guess I was just caught up in the moment, you know, blinded by the lights….but mostly, I’m just stupid that way sometimes. I’m a sickeningly honest person.”

Darrell said, “What, you’re so innocent, you’ve got no skeletons in your closet”?

I laughed. “Plenty of skeletons, Darrell, I just let ‘em out to dance every chance I get. I’ve made plenty of questionable moves in my life, but I’m not really ashamed of any of them. At least not ashamed enough to try to keep them under wraps. Too much effort for too little reward.”

“That’s different”.

“Look, it’s not something I came to consciously. When I was in High School, I had a friend who abandoned me over something he couldn’t accept about me. I figured, I’ve got as many friends as most people do; not a lot, but more than a few. And every one of them knows pretty much everything there is to know about me, warts and all. For some reason, either they’re not bothered by my blemishes, or they don’t think there’s anything wrong there; whatever the case, they’re still my friends. Eventually, I decided that friends aren’t really friends if you have to constantly keep track of which friend knows which secret”.

Darrell looked at me like I had just stepped out of a spaceship. “That’s a pretty unique attitude. How’s it working so far?”

“Usually a lot better than today.”

We finished lunch and then Darrell had his driver take me home. We shook hands fondly in parting, neither of us expecting to ever see the other again.

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