A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals ...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chapter 9

The next couple of weeks seemed to go by in a blur. There were a couple of reason for this, and I suppose that I might as well get the more painful of the two out of the way first. It was after all, my own fault really. You would think someone of my age and maturity (OK, age certainty ... maturity remains questionable) and who knew enough to sit with his back to the wall in a public place would have the good sense to be more careful about the kind of situations that he allowed himself to get involved in; or at the very least, make sure that someone had his back if he didn’t. Since I mention this as a prelude to continuing my story, it must be apparent to even the dimmest at this point that I did not do either of these things. Of course, you might be able to say that I didn’t know the neighborhood, and so might be excused. I would have liked to say that, but I couldn’t. I had been in any number of strange and unusual places in my world and others, and the first rule in any of them is to watch you back. Enough of the feeble attempt at excuses! I screwed up.

The truth of the matter is that I had taken to wandering whenever there was anything resembling a free moment. My days had begun to turn into a series of meetings every morning and every evening to review the day’s events and plan for our next moves, and a good number of what seemed to be mostly useless ones in between. The strain of such a schedule had begun to wear on me.

God must truly love anyone who has the fortitude and patience to attend meetings on a regular basis as a part of their job. My personal belief is that these gatherings of humanity should be looked on as a sort of Purgatory for the living. I know that in many jobs and situations they are considered necessary, but to me they can only be considered a necessary evil at best. At their best they allow necessary information to be disseminated. At worst, they can be one of the most painful and mind numbing experiences on the planet (ranking right up there with a root canal or a prostrate exam).


When given any kind of choice in the matter, I have always tried to find a way to work in such a way and at such things so as to avoid them like the plague on mankind that I consider them to be, and have railed unceasingly at my limited success. My only consolation for this failure of purpose is that if I am correct in my beliefs, I have at least expiated some portion of my misspent life before moving on to the next.

I tried to stay focused through this day-to-day ordeal, no matter how bored or restless I felt, and I would like to think that by and large I succeeded. In the end, the only portion of enjoyment that I could derive from the unremitting mindless tedium of these events as they transpired was the company of Angela, Arturo, Katie, Lorelei, and Phillip. The amount of time that I was spending with them on a day-to-day basis was blossoming into true friendship. I was getting to know Gary and Sue, and Paul and Melissa as well, though their schedules and duties kept them away from us more often than not; but while they were valuable, they were not part of the inner circle that seemed to be beginning to form around me on its own. Though Phillip was, as per tradition, not making any public appearances, he continued to run the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom in the time before the election (much, I am sure, to Randall’s chagrin). He also tried to spend as much of the rest of the time not involved with these day-to-day affairs with us. He was cool, calm, and efficient in disposing of the many decisions that had to be made, and I was grateful for his natural leadership and his help in making decisions that I was still unprepared to make; but even his assistance was not enough to still my restless spirit, and I began my wanderings.


It was probably inevitable that I would end up in the town. After all, a person can take only so much solitude, even when they are looking for it. As for me, while I have to admit that I enjoy my own company, that kind of thing only lasts until I find myself in any kind of a public situation. Invariably I find somebody that has something about himself or herself that is more interesting than anything about me. I then do my level best to make sure that they are never able to share it with me, while boring them to death with tired stories of my own past. There is a perverse satisfaction in such behavior that I have never been able to understand, but I don’t let that get in the way of my good time. Besides, I needed to let off steam in some fashion. I therefore often found myself bending some unsuspecting stranger’s ear in one of the local eating and drinking establishments, while enjoying an adult beverage and sometimes a cigar. This boorish behavior, perpetrated on an unsuspecting populace, was bound to get both noticed by the opposition and get inevitably reap a proper reward. It did.

The night in question was no different from any one of a dozen other nights at first. I made my way into a couple of the local establishments, enjoyed a quiet, mostly one-sided conversation, and moved on. (Mostly, I think, to the relief of those I was leaving.) I had made a couple of stops on that particular evening, and though I had a pleasant glow, I was in no way impaired in my thinking or judgment.

I tell you that only so you will not allow me even the excuse of intoxication for my stupidity. I will not hide behind a frailty to which I have no claim.

At any rate, having slaked my thirst and need for human companionship, I decided to make my way back to the Manor for the good night’s sleep required to face the schedule that was ahead of me the next day; and had decided to use the trip as an excuse to enjoy a good cigar and an even more beautiful evening. The first cigar had been replaced by a second, somewhere past the halfway point of my journey when I noticed some rather imposing shadows at the edge of the road. Those imposing shadows soon resolved themselves into two even more imposing gentlemen walking towards me on the same side of the road. People crossing path on these sojourns of mine was not unusual, but the sight of these two did give me a second’s pause. I can’t say why; but since I didn’t pay attention to it, it doesn’t matter anyway. I passed them by with a slight nod of my head in acknowledgment and a wave of my cigar clad hand, and didn’t even notice that they had turned until the first blow fell across my back.


I was stunned by the blow, but not incapacitated in the least, the blow not even sending me to my knees. I turned, surprised by this unprovoked attack, but ready to acquit myself in proper fashion. I would like to tell you that this is exactly what I did. I would also like to tell you that in fact, I emerged victorious from the confrontation, thrashing these two ruffians with nary a bruise or scratch to show for it. I would even like to tell you that having failed at any of the above that I at least managed to strike a gallant blow or two on my own behalf before going down to my inevitable destruction. Of course I would like to tell you that I am a handsome man and a sparkling conversationalist, when I am not contemplating deep thoughts on interesting subjects. Unfortunately, if I said any of these things I would be lying through my teeth. The truth of the matter is that I was over matched from the start, and that looking back on it, the only chance that I might have had is if I had used what little sense I was born with instead of insisting some inflated sense of honor, and run like hell. It would have been cowardly, unmanly, and craven; but it would have been a good deal smarter than hanging around, and would have saved me from the considerable beating that I ended up receiving.

Equally true is that blessedly, I don’t remember anything specific from the event after that first blow, only its consequences. The only memories that I do have began some time later, when I woke up lying in the ditch beside the road some time close to dawn. I could tell that because there was a hint of light that I could almost make out through eyes that were mostly swollen shut. I tried to raise myself up for a better look, but the waves of nausea that immediately ran through my body stopped that kind a behavior rather quickly. I decided that it might be a better idea to lie quietly for a while and assess the damage to my body. Lying still was no less painful, but at least the nausea was not as much of a factor.


I recalled distinctly, a line from an old Marx Brother’s movie, with Groucho playing a doctor. A patient told him that it hurt whenever the patient did a certain thing. Groucho’s inevitable prescription to the patient was to ‘stop doing that’. The line seemed appropriate and almost brought a smile to my face until I realized that even smiling hurt.

While I couldn’t take that sage advice to heart, I could attempt to minimize the effects of not doing so on my situation. Slowly, I began to realize that though quite thoroughly bruised, nothing seemed to be broken (though there was a good chance of a couple of cracked ribs). Having thus confirmed through careful and painful self-examination that I was in relatively one piece, my next halting attempt at a sitting posture, accomplished at the speed of an arthritic octogenarian, was more successful. I can’t really tell you how long all of that took, since I was not concentrating on time, only pain, as all of this was going on. Besides, as I discovered later, my watch was broken and I couldn’t have tracked the time if I had wanted to. (OK, maybe I was wrong a second ago when I said that nothing was broken, but I was talking about me, not my accessories. Besides you knew what I meant anyway. Give a guy a break, huh?) It must have been some time, because the sun had finally broached the horizon when I finally reached a somewhat vertical position, and another day was beginning.

I was only just beginning to be able to enjoy my relatively upright position when I heard a sound coming down the road towards me. In my current state, I was in no position to attempt to scurry further off the road in order to avoid further damage, so I chose to calmly await whatever the fates might have in store for me. Fortunately for me, it was one of the carriage-like vehicles that I had described earlier, this one from the Manor, and was being driven by Angela with Arturo at her side. I managed some semblance of a smile (still painful) and a wave (more so), but they immediately saw through the ruse and quickly made their way to my side.


You look like a couple of miles of bad road, next to a couple of miles of bad road, my friend,” Arturo said.

Of course, the roads in Macundo were never in any state of disrepair that I had ever seen; but maybe this is what is considered a sense of humor for talking dogs. Who am I to judge? I tried to respond, but the only sounds that emerged were a hacking cough and a groan. So much for my version of clever repartee.

Oh you poor man,” Angela crooned as she leaped down from the vehicle. “What on earth happened to you?”

Oh come on,” Arturo rejoined. “It’s quite obvious what happened to him. Somebody kicked the crap out of him. The question is who, and why.”

That was enough of being talked about. It was about time for me to put my two cents in.

First of all Arturo,” I managed in a croaking voice, ending with a groan, “it was two somebodies and not somebody. Second, don’t interrupt or disparage a lady when she is rendering sympathy and assistance to one who is suffering and in pain.”

Sorry, my friend,” he replied with a hint of both sympathy and irony. “I should never have assumed that you could be taken single-highhandedly; and even if I had, should never had spoken of it openly in the presence of a lady. Having now given you the benefit of the doubt however, one might ask if you think it’s possible for you to stand, let alone walk in your present condition. We should get you back to a more congenial situation, where the wounds that you have garnered honorably in manly combat can be suitably and sympathetically tended.”


If I wasn’t in such pain, Arturo, I would be happy to trade quips, sarcasm, and clever lines with you. Under the circumstances however, I will merely remind you who you come to when you want to be scratched behind the ears, and with the assistance of this kind lady, attempt to assume a more vertical position.”

Duly noted,” he replied with one of those slightly apologetic dog grins, as Angela helped me slowly to my feet, and I shuffled painfully over to the door of the carriage.

To say that I was ungraceful in climbing into the carriage would be a tremendous understatement, but I did somehow manage to do so. With a sigh I settled back into the cushioned comfort of one of the seats as both made their way back up to the driving position, and I napped contentedly for the rest of the short ride back to the Manor. Having arrived there, plenty of help was available to assist (carry) me back to my rooms. I was then cleaned, poked, prodded, and thoroughly examined for potential damage.

My assessment that no serious damage had occurred was confirmed, as was my guess at the cracked ribs, though they didn’t appear to even be serious enough to require wrapping. I was merely told to take it easy for a couple of days, and left with a pot of hot tea and the equivalent of a couple of aspirins. Whether it was the medicine, the cleanliness, or just being back in a bed with clean sheets; it didn’t take long for me to drop off to sleep.


When I awoke, I found that I was not alone in the room. I could easily see that seated quietly around me were Phillip, Lorelei, Katie, and Angela. I didn’t even need to look to know that Arturo was there as well, though he had to be somewhere below my line of sight. I was gratified to note the number and apparent concern of the expressions in those around me. Basking in the sympathetic air lasted only for a moment however. I began to feel some small pangs of guilt over the concern that everyone was showing. I realized that in spite of the fact that this was an ideal opportunity to take advantage of their better natures, I was going to need to put the best face on that I could. There seemed nothing else to do then but pull myself up to a sitting position in the bed and begin to face the world, so I did.

I know that it’s a stupid question,” Phillip quietly smiled, “but how do you feel?”

If the looks on your faces are any indication,” I replied, returning the smile with only a flicker of a grimace, “I must feel better than I look. Otherwise, I would be a corpse.”

Can you tell us what happened?” Angela asked from the other side of the bed.

Other than two guys attacked me on the road on my way home last night for no apparent reason, no I don’t think that I can.”

You never should have been out at night alone in the first place,” Katie snorted, shaking her head. “What on earth were you thinking of being out at night on the road by yourself during an election?”

20-20 hindsight, lady,” I replied, then had to stop and explain the concept of how vision was measured in my world and what that particular expression meant. Katie smiled sadly and nodded as I finished, acknowledging a legitimate, but silly mistake.


Well, at least the doctor says that there is no permanent damage,” Lorelei put it, forcing me to turn my head for the third time in a short period and bringing another grimace to my face.

Sorry,” she said, noticing the expression.

I don’t suppose there’s any of what appears to me at least to be magic for making all of this go away,” I responded.

Sorry again,” was her reply.

Then I suppose that rest is the only cure,” I replied with a sigh. “If you will excuse me from the day’s duties Phillip, I promise that I will resume my responsibilities tomorrow.”

The day’s duties are already past,” Katie laughed. “You’ve been lying in bed all day, and Angela wouldn’t let any of us near here to disturb you. The light you see through the window is early evening, and you’ve slept away most of the day.”

Angela was blushing now, and I think that I was too, though I don’t know if it was from embarrassment, guilt, or shame.

My apologies to you ladies and gentlemen, for shirking my responsibilities to all of you. I promise that I will not let my injuries or any pretended laziness affect the campaign. That being said, I beg you for one more night of rest, as even this conversation has worn me out.”


Nonsense,” Phillip replied. “Our concern was only for your welfare, and there was no right to an expectation that you should be able to resume your duties. I apologize for the treatment that you have received at the hands of my countryman, and for this intrusion on you so quickly after your injuries. While even it is probably too soon, tomorrow will certainly be soon enough for anything that anyone needs,” and with that he rose, and with him the others. “Rest now Sean and we will see you in the morning.”

One by one they filed out, each smiling before they turned away. Angela left last of all, and approached the bed before she did so. She reached out and almost took my hand, but let her hand drop back before doing so. There was the most curious expression on her face as she turned, but I was in too much pain and far too tired to question it. I had just settled back onto the pillow again with a sigh when Arturo placed his forepaws on the bed at my shoulder and gave me a look in the eyes.

You’ll do,” was all he said before dropping back down to the floor and trotting out of the room.

I started to ponder that, and a few of the other things that seemed to be happening around me, but didn’t manage much before my eyes closed on my thoughts. Rest performed its normal restorative function, and I was up at my normal time and back on the job … such as I was. I must admit however, that it seemed to take a couple of days before I felt any real motivation (or my complete comprehension) return. Whatever my injuries were, they and the inevitable recovery period natural to such things seemed to be dulling my wits as well as my movements. In addition, I seemed to keep having a problem wrapping my head around the way that this election was supposed to suppose to operate.


I was used to seeing campaigns where the virtues of the candidate were extolled to the voters by their respective supporters. Issues were brought up, and the difference in position between the two candidates were outlined and discussed, and this would be used to begin the decision making process on which candidate was better suited to the job. The candidates themselves were seen anywhere and everywhere, doing anything in their power to make themselves visible to both the voters and the media. Events were either attended or staged to feature these candidates; where they spoke, smiled, shook hands, and yes, even kissed babies. Only as the campaign got down to the wire did the opponents start to throw rocks, and when they did, they threw carefully. Campaigns, as I understood the process from my past, must find a way to be negative about the opposition without seeming to be. You know like: ‘Our guy is a good guy who loves trees, rivers, lakes, and the environment in general. We don’t understand why the other guy isn’t like our guy. He must want to rape the environment for evil purposes involving under the table payoffs from immoral lobbyists and corporations whose only thoughts are of their own profit.’ You know, the use of subtle persuasion.

I know that elections don’t really work that way, except in old movies and TV shows (and not even in all of them), but that's the way it was supposed to work. It amazes me sometimes how these little pieces of entertainment shape our thinking process and how tough it is to break through the ideas that they put into our heads about the world around us. Elections are fair. The good guy always wins. True love lasts forever. Couples have sex for hours and always achieve a state of ecstasy simultaneously. The fact that none of it exists in the real world (at least not mine), does not seem to keep us from holding these 'truths' as unshakable beliefs and ignore the disappointment in life and those around us when they don’t fit our preconceived notions.


Katie and her staff were patient, diligent, and detailed in educating me in my error and at redirecting my attitudes about the process here. They took the time to go over the methods that they were using, and how and why they worked. They were real pros doing their jobs, and were performing even more brilliantly than I had hoped. As Katie had intimated, Christy had provided a good deal of fodder for the press, and we managed to get it out at such a pace that he was never out of the editorial pages of the newspapers during this initial period. Arranging for some interviews with a couple of the merchants still awaiting payment from Christy for the newsreels was as good for them as it was for us. Randall soon arranged payment to get Christy out of the headlines, and the fact that we were able to steer some of the follow up interviews to show that daddy had to clean up the mess for the lad worked almost as well as the original stories.

Katie and her staff created this properly couched attack on Christy, while simultaneously casting doubt on anything that came at us from their camp. The defensive speeches that they crafted were literate, without being snobbish; and negative, without seeming vindictive. The presentation of those speeches that Paul and Melissa gave in those early days was glorious, with the proper mix of humility and confidence. With minor changes, they were able to use them for any number times and places in order to reinforce our basic message and get that message to the greatest audience. Surprisingly (to me at least), it was Arturo who was a great help here. Though he never wrote any of the speeches, he seemed to know just the changes that needed to be made based on the group being spoken to. He was also invaluable in knowing what people in each group needed additional attention and seemed to be able to sense the most quotable phrases from each of these speeches for use in our first fliers and posters.

Andy was true to his word where his work was concerned, and we often had his finished product in our hands within an hour of when we gave it to him. (I have some knowledge of printing technology from some of the projects that I have worked on in the past, and would have loved to have asked him how it was done, but was too busy with the task at hand to ask for any of the technical details of the printing process here. It might have been interesting to me personally, but could have served no purpose in our efforts.)


Gary and Sue were working almost constantly, and their polls were showing us ahead with a solid lead of 10-12 points early in the contest. This strong lead had all of us pleased, but not overconfident by any means, as such early leads are far too often whittled away over time. On their own initiative, they had come up with a program of bi-weekly polls that asked the same questions in a dozen different ways, in order to make sure that we were getting an up to date and accurate reading on the populace. This data didn’t change the message that we were getting out, as I was determined not to see this run as a campaign by poll; but it did allow us at least to see the areas where we weren’t getting our message across and to whom. This additional knowledge also afforded us the opportunity (and again here, Arturo was such a great help) to focus time and attention onto those people and points in getting our message out. It might not be what everyone wanted to hear, but it was what we wanted to say, and we were doing our best to say it well.

As for any wondering about Angela and I, in spite of all of the time that we were spending together and her obvious concern over my improving condition, nothing seemed to be happening in the way of a romantic relationship that I wasn't sure should happen anyway. Not that I was sure that anything was supposed to happen, or even could under the circumstances. Angela was a beautiful woman after all, who could have her pick of any of the men that I had met since I had gotten here. There was certainly no reason that any such choice in her life should include me. I knew that I was interested of course, and perhaps one could even say that I was smitten with the girl (I know it’s a trite word, but don’t care); and I had the considered opinion of a blue dog (though an awfully smart blue dog) that she felt something for me as well.


The truth of the matter, I suppose, is that with the important work that needed to be done, there just didn’t seem to be any time for us to find out, and it seemed damned selfish to attempt to find any. In addition, as busy as we both were with the details of the campaign, I can’t say that either of us was capable of making the effort. I know that I fell into bed at the end of every day, completely exhausted by the activities that seemed to consume them. I had also taken to heart the advice of my diminutive blue advocate, and kept my eye focused on the work at hand instead of any personal concerns. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t found that I was gradually becoming somewhat resentful of all of the demands on our time, but I didn’t know what else to do with the seriousness of the situation that we were facing. For the moment I at least, would need to be content with the fact that the job at hand was getting done properly.

That the entire situation was sheer torture, and that I began to feel that Angela would always be just out of reach would be an understatement. Only one who has been in close proximity to an unrequited love has any concept of what I'm talking about. I began to feel that the two of us seemed to be always and never together, and the occasional ache that I felt as some conversation directed her into my attention was like a stone I was carrying in somewhere in my gut. There were far too important and too many other problems to focus my attention for too long on this one.

The real truth of the matter was that I was probably scared to death of rejection and perfectly willing to use the fact that I was busy to shield me from dealing with any of my potential personal problems. Since this is not particularly unusual behavior for me, I can't say that I even noticed it happening.


The worst part of life at this point however, was the constant stream of people to be dealt with every day. As anyone who has ever been involved with such labors will know, no political campaign can be run without a large and enthusiastic group of volunteers. They do all of the true heavy lifting of a campaign; and do it by and large, for completely unselfish reasons. Their belief and sacrifice in an idea or a person is what ultimately makes it all work. As a consequence, they exhibit all of the best and worst traits of any large group of people (as I mentioned earlier). They were both an inspiring throng and an unruly mob, and I didn’t have a clue about how to deal with them most of the time. They awed, intimidated, and baffled me at every turn. I simultaneously wanted to take them all out for dinner and march them off of a high cliff like a bunch of lemmings. I found it impossible to keep any or all of them straight in my head. We were flooded with so many names and faces that it was quickly beyond comprehension to me.

I am truly horrible at remembering the names of people that I meet, so this constant stream of strangers and the struggle to remember who they were became a constant dull pain behind my eyes that only went away when I was sleeping.

I employed every trick that I had ever learned in the years of dealing with the feeble memory that I had been granted where such matters were concerned, and hoped that it would be enough, but was never sure. I used ‘kind sir’ or ‘young lady’ with everyone initially, so that no one would feel slighted. I looked and listened to those around me for any kind of a hint to jog my normally clueless condition. I constantly turned to companions to remind me of those I had just met with, and who were just as quickly forgotten in the unbroken sea of humanity. It is not that they were unimportant, in fact quite the contrary; but this is just another of the ways in which my mind is uniquely, and perhaps improperly wired. What made it all worse for me at the time is that I knew that as the named leader of the group, they were all vying for my time, my attention, and my praise.


Praise to those in such a group is the most necessary of any leader’s jobs, and I gave it as often and effusively as possible; but the people around me probably noticed the hesitation as I struggled for a connection to a name to go with a face and took it in some negative way. Fortunately for me, the others were able to help me through some of this once I had confessed my situation to Angela and Katie. They got the word around to the core of our little team, and everyone tried to make sure that I was not left in the lurch too often. Meetings in conference rooms always had name tags at the seats. Someone in the know often interrupted me, managing to use the questioner’s name in order to help me out when the size of such gatherings made the use of name tags impossible. It was an imperfect solution, but given the shoddy material with which the campaign was presented (me) it was working; and that was all that counted.

I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, even as I found myself floundering in a sea of my own failings and foibles. Sure, I was too busy to sleep properly all of the time; but isn’t that the time when life is the most interesting and the most fun. Sure I was failing in my attempts to get closer to Angela, but isn’t that the dynamic that adds the most spice to a budding relationship. Isn’t the tension of the chase much more agreeable than the prospect of endless loneliness? My life was difficult and complicated, but it was far from boring and unbearable.

On a broader level however, a true social life of a sorts began to emerge for me as part of this group. Having realized that I was not the only one who might need to let off a little steam after a tremendously stressful day, and having recovered sufficiently from my injuries, I vowed to return to my practice of going out in the evenings. History being the marvelous teacher that it is however; I no longer attempted to do so alone. On those nights that we weren’t trapped in the manor until the wee hours of the morning working, some part of the group often went into town together now.


Of course it seemed inevitable that Angela, Katie, and I were the core of such gatherings, but the group was never limited. Arturo also was also a regular, but since he didn’t use a chair, it was easy to overlook him both literally and figuratively on some of these occasions. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that soon after those first meetings Arturo had deserted his post at my side in favor of a position between Angela and Katie. I also finally began to notice that Angela placed herself between Katie and me at every opportunity that presented itself.

Sure I’m slow, but I’m not completely stupid, especially when the facts are shoved in my face.

Arturo and I shared a wink and a smile the first time that he saw that I had realized the peculiar form of chess that was being played out, and thereafter let it go. While being secretly pleased at Angela’s behavior, I refused to allow myself to read anything but protectiveness into it. As for Arturo’s new position, I couldn’t help wonder who he was trying to protect, as both women seemed eminently capable of taking care of themselves. However fascinating these small musings on the social interaction of my companions was, life was far too short at the time for such idle speculation.

Transportation for these gatherings, if you were wondering, was never a problem as our friendly cab driver had since been hired by the campaign as a driver. I soon discovered that my suspicions were correct, that the vehicle was powered by a form of the magic that seemed so much a part of this place. Our cabbie, a very friendly sort of fellow, while admitting to the source of power for his vehicle refused to reveal to me the method of this magic or its location, there being union regulations prohibiting such revelations.


I would love to go into a discussion of unions and their regulations at this point, but since I have just recounted a situation in which I had physical damage committed upon my person, I see no reason to invite union leg-breakers to put me through another period of extended rehabilitation.

It turned out that our cabby’s name was Patrick, and we had many a long conversations during our rides together about the Irish lineage that his name implied in my world and of the Irish people in general. He in turn, told me of his people and their history, and I found it equally fascinating. The stories of both his people and mine led us to speculation of our respective cultures and their peculiarities. We both had to admit that there was no way possible to trace his forebears to anywhere near the Ireland that I knew, but the similarities were striking. We listened kindly to each others stories as I rode up top with him, and agreed that while there little possibility of common stock between us, the parallels between our two groups of ancestors was uncommon.

As my old dad used to say,” he recounted. “We may not be part of the same tree, but we certainly come from the same part of the forest.”

Paul and Melissa were also infrequent visitors, as both their work for us and their careers took so much of their time; but they joined whenever they were in the area and were always welcome. It was always a treat to have them with us however, as they shared not only their news on the success of their travels for us, but the gossip of the industry they were part of. Knowing nothing of the movie industry from my own world, except what I heard on the TV talk shows (seldom watched), I found this behind the scenes information absolutely fascinating. The fact that these two were brother and sister and both doing well in their respective careers was not unusual in this world either, but it was their dedication, as well as their talent that really impressed me. I was astonishing to find out how many talented people can’t find a way into such a business, and how many untalented people manage to keep going in spite of their lack of ability. (And no, there is no Baldwin family in this universe ... at least that I was made aware of.) Knowing what I know now however, I often wonder how any movie in either world ever gets made.


Gary and Sue often joined us as well, even if they had a group working that evening, and their company was likewise welcome. As the only husband and wife that I knew in this world, they were able to give me a unique insight into the culture of the society. Childless, they had dedicated most of their married lives to the building of their careers, and were only now, after some 15 years, beginning to see it come to fruition. They would often appear in our midst, even in the middle of one of their bi-weekly polls, while waiting for the analysis that would not be required until the polling was done. I think that while they loved their work, that they also appreciated the camaraderie of our gang. They truly enjoyed chance to have some kind of a normal social life and get out of the small room and world that they had put themselves in while doing the thing that gave meaning to their life and work.

Andy was a regular as well, once he closed the shop down and sent his people home for the day, which was usually late. Though not officially part of the inner circle, he was becoming more and more a part of our discussion groups. Even Misha even joined us; once we assured her that no government funds would be used at such gatherings unless it was strictly a business meeting. She turned out to be great fun, with a quick wit and a lively sense of humor. She and Katie endlessly traded quips and jibes about their respective professions. The two of them constantly had us all in stitches with jokes about ‘headline whores’ and ‘bean counters’. I tried to contribute to the revelry with a couple of my favorite stories, but soon gave up when I realized that they had no frame of reference for the things that I was talking about. It was a real disappointment to me I must say, as I consider that these are funny stories and that I am a funny person (really, I am). I was able to swallow some small portion of my pride on this point however, in order to avoid the embarrassment of too polite laughter, and the strange looks that I got from around the table every time I tried one.


We didn’t go to the same place every time, but did seem to spend most of out time at the Main Street Tavern or the Swinging Door Cafe (this turned out to be the name of the place that we had stopped at that first night with the outdoor tables). Since a good number of our group enjoyed a good smoke at the end of the evening, and I was not the only cigar smoker in the group, I was able to indulge in my apparent enjoyment of whiskey and cigars at either place without fear of offending anyone.

Main Street became a particular favorite as Milton, while fulfilling his responsibilities as a bartender, was able to gather a good deal of useful intelligence for us. He shared this information willingly, always remembering that discretion that is part of any good bartender’s nature and responsibility. It turned out that he had no love for either Christy or his father; and without betraying any confidences, was happy to share the local gossip with us as it pertained to them. I don’t know how he did it, but Milton always seemed to know when we were coming (I suspected Patrick had something to do with this, but never asked.), and had a suitable number of tables pulled together for us in an area near to the bar.

Many of our group it turned out were already regulars at this establishment. Often during one of these sessions, someone would leave us for a time to greet and visit with friends that came in; or invite them to join us at our table. I admit that I was occasionally jealous when I felt that someone was paying too much attention to Angela (or any for that matter), or protective if I felt that someone was doing the same to Katie, in spite of the fact that I had no right to either feeling. Overall however, I found the regular crowd a rather congenial company, and genuinely good people, which said something about the group that I had become a part of. I also found that I was immediately accepted in their company, vouched for without a word by those same people that I worked with. I didn’t expect any life long friendships from this, but it is always a good feeling to be accepted at face value by people that you respect, at a place you like being at.


I once had a boss who told me that you never knew if you like someone until you rode with them on a long trip. If the relationship stood the test of the distance, it was likely to remain strong. He also told me that he felt the same way about employees. I am happy to report that I worked with him a good while. I can also say that the same holds true for social gatherings. If you can spend 3-4 hours in agreeable companionship with a co-worker, the relationship is likely to extend beyond the workplace, and long after the job is over.

I found myself stretching my legs at the bar from time to time during these evening sessions at the tables. It gave me a chance to break away from the occasional heated discussion, and indulge my preference for standing in such establishments. That was only an excuse however. It was usually at these times when Milton was able to more comfortably pass along anything that he had on to me without betraying himself to anyone else at the bar. That talent which gave him the ability to work five conversations with as many groups of people at the bar, while continuing to see to their beverage needs worked well for him in this situation. I am sure that no one either noticed or cared about what appeared to be the casual conversations that the two of us had at the bar on these occasions. Arturo usually joined me at such times, sitting quietly at my feet and soaking it all in. This partnership was truly to my benefit as it allowed me to trust to his extraordinary memory, and not rely on my own faulty one, to retain the pertinent information of the conversation without resorting to the taking of notes.

It was during one of these occasions, about a month into the campaign, when I felt an arm slip into mine as I was standing at the bar. I thought at first that it might be Angela, and my pulse began to quicken, but instead was quite surprised when I found myself turning to find Katie at my side.


You know Sean,” she said ordering a refill of her current cocktail from Milton, “For someone who appears to be a fairly bright person, you sure are dumb.”

Why thank you kind lady,” I replied. “I only hope that I can accept that ‘compliment’ in the spirit in which it was given. Let me add that I will endeavor with all of my might, to both live up to and down to your future expectations of my level of intelligence,” I said feeling lyrical again (and for the usual alcohol-related reason). “That being said, would you mind trying to explain yourself in a language that someone both as bright and as stupid as I am might understand?”

Men!” she said taking an exasperated tone. “If it weren’t for women, there is no doubt in my mind that the species would have probably died out long ago. I mean Angela you fool! Are you blind, as well as stupid?”

I’ve been trying to tell him for weeks,” Arturo chimed in at my feet, “but the man simply appears to be too thick to be able to take a hint.”

There’s no doubt about it,” she finished the thought for him. “Sean, it's obvious to everybody else in the place what's going on between the two of you; or at least what should have been going on for some time now. The question in just about everyone’s mind is when are you going to do something about it?”


Now it was obvious that I was not the only one there that evening that had indulged in spirits of some sort, but this conversation was quickly getting out of hand. I tried to use my ignorance as a shield at this point, but the ruse quickly broke down, not because I’m not ignorant for the most part, but because I am such a lousy actor. I know that by then however, the conversation had embarrassed me so completely that I was blushing furiously. I was trying to act nonchalant about what was being discussed simultaneously to and about me, but didn’t think that I was doing a very good job of carrying it off.

I won’t try and stand here and say that I’m not interested,” I began, in what I know was a horribly feeble attempt at casualness, “not only would it be a lie, but a lie that would have no hope of having anyone believe it. The truth of the matter is that I’ve tried to find a way to bring the subject up from time to time, but there has been so much going on since I met the lady that it never seems like the right time,” I complained. “Even if I did bring up the subject, I’m not sure that I would know what to say to her. As you might have noticed, I am not particularly adept in this area, and the last thing that I wanted to do is fumble the situation and blow whatever chance for something that there might be between us. Whatever is going on or not going on though, it’s between us. It's certainly not important enough with everything else that's going on for anyone else to be concerned about, so please don’t worry yourself about it. It will work itself out when and if it does.”

He doesn’t know what to say,” she returned with an ironic sigh. “Man, you are going to continue to be a great help to me, and of that I have no doubt. And don’t tell me not to be concerned that two people that I care about, well one that I care about and one that I tolerate, when they seem to be unhappy for no good reason. As for no time, man you need to make the time for happiness. What's life about, if not that? In fact, what’s wrong with tonight? What’s the matter with right now bucko? Yes now that I think about it, I think that you have been here way too long this evening. Arturo, don’t you think that it’s time that Sean went home for the night and got some rest?”


I believe you’re right,” he replied with that grin that he somehow managed. “There may some affects lingering from his previous injuries, and only proper rest and care are likely to see improvement in his condition. Do you think that it's possible that we could get someone to escort him home this evening to gain such care and rested?”

I believe that such a thing might just in fact be possible,” she returned, now with a diabolical gleam coming into her eye. “Leave that part to me. I think that I will suggest to the lady that I know that one of us ought to get him out of here, and now. If I know my girl, that ought to be enough to get things stirred up around here!”

And so saying, she kissed me on the cheek, picked up her drink, and stepped away from the two of us. I couldn’t help the fact that my eyes followed her as she made her way back to the table. She stopped occasionally along the way to speak to someone, as if she were not already on a self-assigned mission as a busy body; but the in spite of the nonchalance, I couldn't help but notice that her approach to our group was almost tactical. When she arrived back at the table, she sat down next to Angela, who I couldn’t help but notice, was frowning at her a bit. I stood silently sipping my drink, swaying slightly from one foot to the other, too stunned by the recent conversation and events unfolding around me to do much else. In spite of my own rather lame attempts at contrived indifference, it was almost impossible not to notice that the two girls whispering together. The frown soon disappeared from Angela’s face, turning into the hint of a smile. In only a few minutes, the two were whispering together like teenage best friends at a slumber party. As I stood at the bar, too stunned to move, the two exchanged a quick final hug, and Angela got up from the table.


My friend,” Arturo commented from my feet. “You are done like dinner. I think that a strategic retreat on my part is definitely in order.”

I looked down to where he had been, attempting to think of something to prevent his departure, but he was already moving. ‘Man’s best friend’, I thought as he deserted me. I turned from the tables back towards the bar, silently determined to make at least a show attempt of keeping control of the situation. I searched for my host, but Milton seemed pointedly engrossed in a conversation with a group at the other end of the bar, and with a quick and amused glance was making it quite obvious that he had likewise deserted me. I swallowed the rest of my drink, which caught in my throat, and that old joke about Socrates’ last words being ‘I drank what?’ popped into my head. I felt the heat of the liquor and that of a full-blown blush coming into my face, and I had no idea why. Then she was there.

Sean,” she started meekly, slipping her arm into mine. “I think that I have had enough fun for the night. Since I’m not sure that any of us should be traveling alone any more, would you be a gentleman and escort me home?”

Of course I would. It would, in fact, be my great pleasure to do so kind lady,” I stammered as I tried desperately to gather my wits, which seemed as scattered as my friends were around the room. There was something about the tone and tenor of this conversation that had me on the verge of breathlessness anxiety, and my attempts to function on any kind of a normal basis were failing miserably.


Without further conversation or ado, we two turned to leave the place, wishing our friends good night as we passed. I may have been mistaken, or merely feeling paranoid and guilty, but I could have sworn that I heard snickering behind our back as we moved towards the door. It was enough to leave me blushing furiously again, though I still didn’t want to admit to the reason for it to myself. If the truth were to be told, I didn’t even want to think about any of this too much, afraid that doing so would cause me to awaken from the moment. Besides, I wasn’t sure that I was currently capable of rational thought if required. It had always seemed to me that setting anything resembling expectations in situations like this was sure to doom them entirely. The whole thing seemed to be much too fragile a circumstance to broach any heavy-handed interference from me. I therefore desperately attempted to leave my mind a blank (usually not all that difficult a task).

Patrick was waiting outside, as always, and I handed Angela up into the cab. As I pulled myself up, I could have swear that I heard a muffled cheer rising through the closed door, but I’ sure that it must have been my imagination. Thoughts were racing furiously in my head, but without apparent destination, were only quickly getting nowhere, and I found myself completely tongue-tied as we left. The ride back to the manor was a quiet one. Patrick seemed to sense that something was different, and he departed from his normal practice of non-stop conversation during the ride. Abandoning his normal practice, he in fact kept the top door shut, leaving us alone. We were probably a couple of miles down the road, still in silence, when I first noticed Angela’s hand in mine. It’s funny that I don’t recall to this day whether I took her hand or she took mine. They were simply there, together.

Concerned that I might have overstepped the bounds of propriety, and achieved the stalker status that she had previously been willing to accord me, I started to move it. I also looked up to beg her pardon at my imposition, wondering what she must be thinking of me by now. As I did so, she leaned in and kissed me. I have to say that as kisses go on a scale of 1 to 10, I would have to give it a solid 9.9.


There is no such thing as a perfect anything, even with the perfection that is Angela! We are after all, only human. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great kiss! I’m sure that it ranks right up there with Romeo and Juliet, or the one that woke Sleeping Beauty up; but since I wasn’t around for either, that would merely be a guess. It was certainly one worth remembering, which obviously I still do, but there had to be something not quite right about it. Maybe the way I was sitting didn’t allow me the best position to make contact. Maybe I was too caught by surprise to properly respond. Maybe (probably) I’m just trying to leave myself some room here, in case she has a different opinion of the event that she's willing to share. I am at least honest enough about the experience to realize that I need to leave myself some room for the protection of my fragile male ego.

Now I know that I have already explained that I don’t understand women very well, but the message in most kisses is usually pretty easy to distinguish. There are the pecks on the cheek of friendship and family, the simple kiss of long familiarity, and the true romantic kiss of song and literature. The message in that kiss seemed like it was pretty unmistakably the latter to me. There were any number of things that I wanted to say when it was finished (Don’t ask me how long it lasted. In the first place, I’m not sure that I have any notion, and in the second, that’s none of your business.). Fate however, was kind to me that evening, and I didn’t say anything. I simply kissed her again. Actually, I think I kissed her more than once, but neither of us was counting. I felt my arms slip around her, and hers around me. If anything else was going on in the world, it was insignificant at the time. The rest of the ride passed in a blur, and before I knew it, we were stopped at the front door.


Somehow we managed to disentangle ourselves and look properly respectable as Patrick let himself down and opened the door. As always, I got out to hand her out of the cab; and with my arm now around Angela, we made our way up to the front doors. It was a good thing that the front doors on this place opened themselves, as I am sure that I would have walked right into them. My attention at the time was totally on the woman. I think that I heard an evil snigger from the pull chain as we passed through into the entry hall, but once again chose pointedly to ignore it. Angela stopped us there, and I took her into my arms again. She didn’t resist, and we just stood there for a moment, wrapped up in each other. I felt her grip loosen, and let her pull back.

Good night Sean,” was all that she said before turning away to make her way to her quarters.

I stood there as stunned and silent as you might have expected. I can’t begin to talk about the emotions that were running through my head as I watched her walk away from me (not that such a view was anything to be disparaged). When she had finally passed out of sight, I turned like a man on his way to his execution, and made my way down the hall to my own room. Entering it confusion, elation, and misery fought a hopeless battle in my mind and heart. It was obvious that she cared for me in some fashion, or she wouldn’t have kissed me the way that she did. Angela just wasn’t that kind of person. On the other hand, she had walked away with barely a word at the end. Thoughts raced through my head (a fairly easy thing for them to do as most of my old teachers would have said, seeing as how they would meet with little resistance on the journey). I was the luckiest man in the world. I was a slug not worthy of her slightest consideration. In the end, I was mostly just a confused individual struggling to understand what was happening to me. I was in heaven. I was in hell. I was completely flummoxed. She loved me. She loved me not. She drove me to the edge of insanity.


The only thing that I knew for sure was that there wasn’t a chance in the world that I would be able to sleep now. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day, and I knew it; but there wasn’t anything that would alleviate my restless condition. (Man, there were times when a guy really missed television.) I undressed because it seemed the thing to do, and put on a robe that they had left for me that first night. The bed was turned down for me, as it always was, and there were decanters with whiskey and water were laid out on the table next to it, as they had been every night since I arrived. I fixed myself a very small drink to steady my nerves (and because I couldn’t think of anything else to do), leaving the water untouched. I turned away from the bed, and went instead to the set of glass doors just to the left, that I had left untouched since I had been given these quarters. They led, as I knew from an earlier glimpse, to a small patio illuminated dimly by the moonlight through sheer curtains. I left the curtains closed as I stepped out, and leaned against the rail surrounding the area to take in a little of the night. There was so much that I should be thinking about: the campaign, tomorrow’s meetings, how this was all going to work out, that kiss.

No wait a minute, that shouldn’t be on the list. What list? Who cares? I’m a guy, and that means that the truth of the matter was that the kiss was the only thing in the world that really mattered right now.

I don’t know how long I had been standing there in this semi-mindless reverie, my drink all but untouched, when I heard a tap at the door, followed by it opening. Oh great, the last thing that I needed now was somebody wanting or needing something. I stepped back through the curtains to send whoever it was away and enjoy the self-pity, anxiety and misery that I was feeling but couldn’t. It was Angela who had entered.


She seemed to be floating just above the floor in some kind of sheer floor length gown or robe that looked like the color of the ocean at night. She had reached something close to a halfway point between the door and where I stood, when she stopped long enough to let it fall from her shoulders. She then continued to walk towards me, and though what she wore now covered everything, it was sheer enough to leave nothing to the imagination. I know that I made a sharp intake of breath, because of the smile that it brought to her face. She didn’t slow however, until she was right in front of me. She brushed open the robe that I was wearing, and placed both hands on my chest. I know that my heart was pounding like a trip hammer, and my head was spinning slightly in a way that could not be blamed on the evening’s festivities, or even the perfume she was wearing, though certainly it was intoxicating. She locked her gaze on mine and I saw that little smile growing slowly on her perfect face. Then she placed her head against the spot where her hands had been just a moment before.

Strong heart,” she said leaning close to me, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

Yeah,” I replied, “strong heart, weak mind.”

Mmm, just the way I like my man.”

She stepped back then, and smiled at me again so that I could feel it as well as see it. I didn’t move, couldn’t move. Hell, I could barely breathe. She loosened the ties that held what she was wearing together and let it fall away. Suddenly I could move, and did. I took her in my arms and brought her close.

I hope you realize lady, that I am madly in love with you, and have been since the moment that I met you,” I whispered into her hair.

It’s a good thing,” she said, pulling me even closer. “I wouldn’t want to feel this way alone.”

No comments:

Post a Comment