Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are mine.
Violence/Sex: Some (brief) violence. This story does involve a consensual loving and sexual relationship between two adult women. It is not explicit, but if it offends you, is illegal where you live, or if you are underage—please consider another story selection.
Warning: This story contains profanity—lots of it. In fact, Evan Reed should will her mouth to science. For those of you who are brave enough to persevere—my heartfelt thanks in advance.
Dust will be posted in installments. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Ann McMan, May 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
Andy Townsend. There he was again.
The populist former governor of Delaware had won the recent senate election by one of the thinnest margins in the First State 's history, but you'd never know that by the media frenzy that now followed him around. Every time you blinked, there he was—being interviewed on some morning talk show or making the rounds of the Sunday TV news magazines. Today, it was Meet the Press —and Evan thought Townsend was a little out of his league.
David Gregory had the junior senator facing off against conservative pundit Jamie Baker—and, so far, Baker was doing all the talking. The topic was climate change, and Baker was all over Townsend about his participation in the recent Clean Energy Summit in Nevada.
“I think it's ironic that the former poster boy for Delmarva Power is now crowing about the need to conserve energy.” Baker warmed to her line of attack. “Isn't your state one of the biggest chemical polluters on the eastern seaboard?”
Townsend sat quietly, listening to Baker's tirade. Then he smiled that million-dollar Kennedy smile.
Here it comes, Evan thought.
“The only chemistry that matters in my state is the kind that pours millions of dollars each year into researching and developing alternative and renewable sources of energy. If I'm lucky enough to be tagged as the poster child for an industry that serves as a national role model for innovation and progress in the effort to relieve us of our dependence on foreign oil—and clean up our environment—then that's a cross I'm willing to bear.” He winked at her. “Thank you, Jamie, for the vote of confidence.”
Gregory cut to a commercial break, and Evan snapped up the remote control and muted the volume. Every time I think he's had it, he rebounds and nails a three-point shot at the buzzer. Amazing. The phone rang. Evan stared at it for several seconds before deciding to pick it up. It was Sunday, for Christ's sake—who in the hell would be calling on Sunday? The phone rang again. Sighing, Evan picked it up.
“Evan? It's Dan.”
Evan sat up and leaned forward on the sofa. “Dan? What's up? Is Stevie okay?”
“Stevie is fine. I'm calling about Andy.”
“ Andy? What about him?”
“Don't tell me you're not watching it.”
Evan sighed. It was useless to lie. He knew her too well. “Of course I'm watching it.”
“What do you think?”
“I think Gregory should get a haircut. He's starting to look like Davey Jones.”
“Don't fuck around, Evan. I've only got 90 seconds. How do you think he's doing?”
“Why do you care what I think?”
“Why do you think I care?”
She turned her head and glanced back at the TV screen. ADM was droning on about its efforts to feed the world. “You can't be serious about him, Dan. He's a lightweight.”
“He's a lightweight who's polling in the 70s. Marcus thinks he's got a good shot at winning the nomination in two years.”
“That's crazy. He's a blank slate.”
“I agree. That's why we need you.”
“You can't afford me.”
“I can't—but the party can.”
“Gimme a break. Townsend's an Independent—they couldn't pay my bar tab.”
Dan laughed. “What if I told you he's switching parties?”
Evan was silent for a moment. “When?”
“In about two and half minutes.”
She was silent again. “Call me after the show.”
Dan hung up.
Evan sat there another minute, holding the phone against her forehead.
She tossed the phone down on the coffee table, then picked up the remote and sat back to watch the rest of the program.
Dan ordered another glass of the Owen Roe petit sirah and glanced for the fifth or sixth time at his watch. Where the fuck was she? Evan was supposed to meet him for lunch at 1:15, and it was now ten minutes to two. He'd already texted her twice. No response. He'd asked for a table near the front window—more so he could keep an eye out for her approach than because he had any desire to watch all the pedestrian traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue. He'd picked the Sonoma Wine Bar because it was only a block away from the Library of Congress—and Evan would be able to walk there. She told him on Sunday that she'd be in D.C. the latter few days of the week, finishing up some background research on the president's shortlist of candidates for attorney general. The last nominee withdrew under a cloud, and the administration couldn't afford another snafu. That's why they called Evan. She was the best in the business.
The server arrived with his glass of wine just as he caught sight of Evan making her way across Independence Avenue. She was crossing the street with a crush of people, and he only noticed her because of her outfit. Jesus. A lime green jacket and black cargo pants. He shook his head. She often said that the real reason she didn't sign on with one of the bigger PR firms was because of the wardrobe requirements. She wasn't kidding. As she approached the restaurant, she saw him through the window and rolled her eyes. In another minute, she was at the table, pulling out a chair and dropping her bulging messenger bag onto the floor at her feet.
“Sorry I'm late—I got hung up with some piss-ant debutante in the microfiche duplication office. She wouldn't take my AMEX.”
“Yeah. Apparently, the U.S. government only takes Visa.” She snorted. “And probably Exxon—I should've thought of that. I could've been here half an hour ago.”
Dan held up his cell phone. “I texted you twice—why'd you have your phone turned off?”
“Been a while since you were in a library, hasn't it? They have rules about that sort of thing.”
“Whatever.” He picked up the wine list and held it out to her. “Want something?”
“What are you drinking?”
He held up his glass. “Some overpriced Washington State wine.” He shook his head. “You'd think they'd get cheaper the further up the coast you go.”
She laughed at him. “If you ever read any of those white papers on climate change your boy Townsend is so fond of waving around, you'd know that Napa is rapidly turning into a desert. They now have to harvest grapes in the dark, just so it's cool enough. That's why all the best wineries are now being found in the northwest.”
“You say that a lot.”
He smiled at her. “Whatever.”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay then. Just get me a glass of whatever.”
He looked around the room until he caught their server's eye. He held up his glass and pointed back and forth between it and Evan. “I should've just bought the whole damn bottle.”
“What are you griping about? Have you maxed-out your expense account?”
“Not yet. But I expect to, shortly. Did you have a chance to review the numbers I sent you?”
“Um hmm. Pretty generous offer. I was surprised.”
“You shouldn't be. We want the best—we're willing to find the money.”
“Okay—Marcus is willing to find the money.”
“Marcus couldn't find his own ass with two hands.”
Dan shook his head. “Jesus, Evan—don't hold back.”
The server arrived and deposited Evan's glass of wine. She picked it up and sniffed it before taking a sip. “You didn't offer me this job because of my ability to make polite conversation. Marcus is nothing more than a two-bit hustler in hand-made suits. You know what I think of your involvement with him.”
Dan took a deep breath as he regarded her. Christ. The woman could be so infuriating. Why did she have to be so goddamn attractive? Even in her ridiculous ensemble, she was sexy as hell. At least, she was to him. But there was no going down that road again—not for them.
“The good news is that you wouldn't be answering to Marcus—just to me.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Would Marcus be the one signing my checks?”
“Why do you care who signs your checks as long as you get paid? You've never cared in the past.”
She sat back in her chair and pushed her sandy hair away from her forehead. “Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age. Maybe I want to be able to sleep at night and not feel like I have to hide what I do from my kid.”
They both fell silent. He could feel a vein in his head throbbing. “She's my kid, too.”
“Remember that, did you?”
He knew she could see him tensing up, and that pissed him off. “That's not fair, Evan. I interact with her as much as I can.”
“Interact with her? Jesus, Dan. She's your daughter —not your tax lawyer.”
He took another deep breath. “Look. Let's have this conversation on our own time, okay? We're not here to talk about Stevie.”
She met his gaze. Her gray eyes looked green today. He figured it was probably because of that obnoxious jacket.
“You're right. We're not here to talk about Stevie.” She picked up her wine glass again. “So. You want to pay me an obscene sum of money to find out if your up-and-coming Horatio Alger has an Achilles' heel?”
“In a nutshell.”
“What makes you think that Mr. Clean has any skeletons hiding in his penthouse closet?”
“I don't. I just want proof that I'm right.”
“Pretty expensive proof, if you ask me.”
“Look, Evan—this guy is the real deal. He can go all the way. I want to do everything I can to clear a path for him. That's my job.”
“So, let me get this straight. You're just playing John the Baptist to this latest messiah of the liberal left?”
“Townsend's a centrist.”
“Oh. Right. I forgot. He only changed party affiliations because the dental insurance was so much better.”
“Sorry—been there, bought the diaper bag.”
He chewed the inside of his cheek. “Let's just cut to the chase. Are you interested or not?
She crossed her arms. “I don't know yet.”
“What will it take to convince you?”
“I need to meet him.”
She rolled her eyes. “No—Daffy Duck. Of course I mean Townsend. And I want unrestricted access to everyone— everyone , Dan. No exceptions.”
He nodded. “Okay. I can set something up for next week.”
“Great. Now—how about some lunch? I'm starving.”
He picked up one of the two menus on their table. “They have great mixed cheese and charcuterie boards here. Wanna split one of each?”
He looked up at her over the rim of his menu. “On?”
“On whether or not I'm on the party's expense account yet.”
“And if I say that you are?”
“Then fuck the cheese plate. I want a steak.”
He waved their server over. “Some things never change.”
Townsend lived in a three-story row house on a cobblestone street in Old New Castle, about three blocks from the waterfront. At least, that's where he lived when he wasn't in residence at his fashionable digs in the Watergate complex. That was the first thing about him that piqued Evan's interest. The luxury apartment complex was too synonymous with scandal to be listed on any serious comer's resume. She knew that if Marcus was interested in taking over Townsend's career, his Foggy Bottom address would be the first thing to change.
She parked her rental car in a public lot near Battery Park, and walked down Delaware Street past trendy shops that sold overpriced boogie boards and six-dollar cups of coffee. To Evan, the 17 th century town was a lot like Townsend—it had a base coat of refinement, but had been overlaid with so much lacquer that any real merit it had was hard to find.
Dan had initially arranged for Evan to meet Townsend at his senate office, but she rejected that idea, suggesting instead that she take the train from D.C. to Wilmington , and then rent a car for the ten-minute drive down to New Castle. She knew that Townsend commuted back and forth to Washington from his Delaware home a lot—and that he had done the same thing during his four years as governor. There wasn't anything especially odd about that. Hell, the entire state was only 90 miles long. Still—she was curious about his obvious attachment to the town house in New Castle , and she wanted to see it for herself. According to Dan, Townsend agreed to the change of venue without question. If he had anything to hide, he wasn't doing much to hide it. She didn't know if that meant he was clumsy or smart. Or whether it just meant that he didn't have anything to hide.
Not very likely.
She smiled as she walked past another coffee shop—the fifth one she'd seen in the ten minutes since she left her car.
She was fifteen minutes early, and that gave her plenty of time to find Townsend's house and scope it out from the opposite side of the street. It was a beauty all right—only a few doors down Fourth Street from the Amstel mansion, and tricked out with lots of polished brass and hand-made red brick. Eight steps led up to the imposing front door. Fourth Street had a fair amount of on-street parking available, but an alley next to Townsend's house led to what looked like a small gatehouse over a single car garage. There was a black Saab 9-5 sedan with Virginia tags parked behind the house. Evan pulled a crumpled ATM receipt out of her messenger bag and wrote the tag number down, knowing she'd never remember it otherwise. Those days were long gone.
She already knew that Townsend had purchased the New Castle house six years ago—two years before he ran for governor. Prior to that, he had lived with his wife, Julia Donne, in her Upper East Side apartment in New York. As far as Evan knew, Ms. Donne had never actually lived with Townsend in Delaware —although she made regular appearances at official functions in and around the state throughout his tenure as governor. They had no children.
Evan walked the rest of the way down the block and crossed the street, heading back toward Number 8. This time, she climbed up the steps and knocked on the shiny black door. To her surprise, the senator opened it himself. He had a mug of something in his hand.
“You must be Evan Reed. I'm Andy—come on in. You're right on time, just like Dan said you'd be.”
He was wearing dark jeans and a tailored blue shirt. He looked handsomer in person. It was clear that someone had spent a small fortune on his smile. Evan had never seen such white teeth.
“Thanks for agreeing to meet me here.” She shook his extended hand. His nails were short and very clean. He had a good handshake. “I thought it would be less formal than meeting in your senate office.”
“Oh, no problem. I jump at any excuse to come down here.”
“I can see why.”
“Have you ever been to Old New Castle?”
“Not before today.”
He was looking her over. “You're younger than I thought you'd be.”
She was used to that reaction. “Really? I was just thinking that you look taller on TV.”
He laughed. It seemed genuine. “Touché.” He waved her into the house. “Want some coffee? I just made a pot.”
“Sure.” She followed him down a wide center hallway to an enormous kitchen that dominated the back of the house. It was clear that this wasn't part of the original structure.
“Need cream or sugar?” he asked.
He gestured toward a small table that sat in front of a pair of tall windows. “Have a seat.” He took a ceramic mug out of an overhead cabinet and poured her coffee. Evan looked around the kitchen. It was impressively equipped. Someone liked to cook—a lot. The last place she'd seen this many stainless steel appliances was a Best Buy. Townsend even had a tandoor, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd seen one of those in a private home—except her own, of course. Evan loved Indian food.
She sat down and took the mug of coffee from him. “This is a great kitchen. You must like to cook.”
He smiled. “Not really. It came with the house. I think the former owners were self-styled gourmands.”
“I guess with your schedule, you don't have much time for hobbies.”
He sat down opposite her. “Not any more. When I'm not working or doing interviews, I'm on the train between here and D.C.”
“Not New York ?”
He seemed surprised. “Julia's work keeps her pretty busy. We try to make time for each other one or two weekends a month.”
“That sounds like a custody arrangement.”
“Something I guess you'd be familiar with.”
Ah , Evan thought. A nerve. She got under his veneer with that one. She made no response.
“Dan told me about your daughter,” he continued. “I hope that's okay.”
“Sure. But I already know the details of my own past.”
“But you don't know mine?”
He sat back and regarded her. “You don't mince words, do you?”
“I can if you want me to. But I get paid by the hour, and it would just end up costing you more.”
He laughed. “So. What do you want to know that isn't already public record?”
“I want to know anything that has the potential to become public record.”
She tilted her head. “You do read the papers don't you Senator Townsend?”
“Call me Andy.”
“Okay, Andy. For starters, let's think for a moment about Edwards, Spitzer and Foley—and I'm not talking about the accountants who prepare my tax returns.”
He sighed. “I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.”
She crossed her arms. “I don't have a dog in this fight. It's Marcus you need to impress—not me.”
“Then Marcus is going to be disappointed. I'm happily married.”
“To a woman you ‘make time for' once or twice a month?”
“That's not unusual or immoral.”
“It is if you're running for president.”
He didn't respond right away. “I'm not running for president. I'm a United States Senator from the Great State of Delaware.”
Evan sighed. “Look, Andy—let's agree on a division of labor, here. I'm a dust buster. I'm not your antagonist. I don't give a flying fuck about how deliriously happy you and your wife are or aren't—or how you choose to define your career aspirations. I make no judgments. I just find and report the facts. You can help me out with that and save your party some coin—or not. It doesn't matter to me what you decide—because either way, I'll find what there is to find, and I'll make my report to your campaign team. Then I'll walk away. End of story.” She met his gaze. “So. I'll ask again. Is there anything you want to tell me about that will shorten this process?”
He sat quietly, meeting her level gaze. He seemed unfazed by her comments. “I have nothing to hide.”
“I'm glad to hear it.” She pushed back her chair and stood up. “Thanks for the coffee.”
He got belatedly to his feet. “You're leaving?”
“Yeah.” She glanced at her watch. “I've got a train to catch.”
“Going back to D.C.?”
“Nope. New York.” She picked up her messenger bag. “I'll be sure and give your regards to Mrs. Townsend.”
Donne & Hale was one of the oldest North American publishing houses. Founded in 1825 by Lewis Donne and Samuel Hale, the firm's roster of authors read like a Who's Who of American literature. After the Civil War, the small, Boston-based firm expanded nearly overnight into a thriving literary powerhouse as educational opportunities increased for a booming population, and the public library movement became firmly entrenched in American culture. In 1935, the firm moved its offices to New York , and staked its claim as the leading literary publishing house in North America.
The contemporary heir apparent to the company's prestigious business and social fortunes was Townsend's reclusive wife, Julia Lewis Donne.
Evan had Dan to credit for the ease with which she got an appointment to meet with the publishing magnate. Professionally, Donne was held in high esteem, but, personally, the woman was an enigma. Evan found that perceptions of her ranged from cold and aloof, to quirky and mercurial. But the few people reputed to know her well were intensely loyal—divulging little, and circling around her like junkyard dogs.
The more she learned about the populist Townsend, the less his marriage to the patrician Donne seemed to fit. She guessed she'd be able to make her own assessment soon enough.
The firm's offices took up two floors of a 45-story limestone and black marble high-rise on Madison Avenue, designed in 1931 by architect Kenneth Franzheim. Evan walked across the art deco lobby with its rose-colored, French marble floors and tried not to gawk at the crystal, triple-star shaped chandelier that visually monopolized the massive space.
She hated places like this. She hated New York. For the first time in eons, it occurred to her to worry that she might be underdressed. And even having to think about that pissed her off. More than one Lady Gaga clone on three-inch heels had given her the once-over as she made her way toward the elevators.
Yeah. She hated New York.
She punched the up arrow and waited on a car to take her to the 38 th floor. She had 30 minutes with Donne, and then a quick trip to Penn Station to catch the Ethan Allen Express to Albany. Tomorrow, she'd be with Stevie. It was parents weekend at Emma Willard, and Evan promised she'd be there. Dan was traveling with Townsend, who was delivering the keynote address at a Renewable Energy Summit in Denver. He promised to call her on Saturday night— but Evan knew that Stevie wouldn't be holding her breath.
A bell rang, and the big steel doors rolled back. Evan walked across a walnut paneled hallway and entered the understated but elegant offices of Donne & Hale. A receptionist with an exaggerated British accent and the loudest herringbone suit Evan had ever seen was seated behind a massive desk. She phoned Ms. Donne's personal assistant, and within moments, Evan was being escorted down a long hallway toward a suite of offices that overlooked Central Park. Evan was right on time, but it appeared that the normally punctual Ms. Donne was not quite ready for her. The assistant showed her into a surprisingly small, but tastefully furnished corner office with panoramic views and a chevron pattern parquet floor, and told Evan that Ms. Donne would join her directly. Then she departed, closing the door behind her.
Evan walked over to the windows and looked down East 60 th street toward 5 th Avenue and the park that spread out beyond it. New York from this vantage point wasn't quite so offensive. She looked over at the modest desk and Herman Miller chair that sat at a right angle to the windows. It was an odd physical arrangement for the office of someone in such a position of prominence. Apparently, Donne enjoyed the view more than she enjoyed the opportunity to intimidate her visitors. Evan noted the absence of any personal photographs. There were several paintings—one Mark Rothko that looked original. Books and papers were tidily stacked on shelves that lined one wall. She glanced at Donne's computer—a silver Mac PowerBook. That surprised her. But then, she didn't know much about publishing. Scattered around the office were a few pieces of what looked like antique Islamic pottery—she thought she recognized some similarities to pieces Dan had collected during his fellowship in Jordan. She made a mental note about that, and wondered if Donne, who met Townsend at Yale, had also traveled to the Middle East during her college years.
Classical music played at low volume from a Bose Wave Radio that sat on a credenza behind the desk. There were several well cared for plants in massive pots. A small sitting area with a loveseat, coffee table, and two upholstered chairs sat on the side of the room opposite the desk. A faded kilim rug covered most of the floor. A leather jacket hung on a hook just behind an open door that appeared to lead to a powder room. Craning her head, Evan could also see a small espresso machine sitting atop what looked like a dorm-sized refrigerator. It appeared that Julia Donne spent a lot of time in her office.
Behind her, the door opened and closed.
“Ms. Reed? I apologize for keeping you waiting.”
Evan turned around and got her first real look at Delaware 's former first lady. Her photos had not done her justice.
“I'm Julia Donne.” She crossed the room and extended her hand. “Dan has spoken very highly of you.”
Evan looked up at her as they shook hands. She had to be at least 5' 10”. That was a surprise, too. “I'm afraid you can't believe too much of what Dan has to say—but I'm glad you're inclined to value his opinion. Otherwise, I think it would have taken me six months to get this appointment.”
Julia smiled at her and gestured toward the sitting area. “I'm sorry about that. But you're here now, so let's make the best of the time we have. Please sit down.” She walked over to her desk and deposited the notepad and pen she had been carrying. “Would you like some coffee or a cold drink?”
“No, thank you. I'm fine.” Evan dropped into one of the armchairs. “I confess that I stopped about three times for snow-cones on my walk here from the train station.”
Julia sat down across from her on the small sofa. She crossed her long legs. “What flavor?”
“Personally, I like the lime ones.” She smiled.
Evan sighed. “Where would we be without our guilty pleasures?”
“Isn't that what you're here to find out?”
Evan noticed that her eyes were very blue. “Did Dan tell you that, too?”
“No. Andy told me that when he called me in a panic about four hours ago.”
Evan was intrigued. “In a panic?”
“There might be some room for interpretation—but, yes. I'd say he was in a panic.”
“And why do you think that?”
“If I had to guess, I'd say it was because he had no confidence in what I might reveal to you about the real status of our relationship.”
She sighed. “Have you ever read a novella, Ms. Reed?”
“It's Evan. And, yes. I have.”
“So you know that it's a literary form that's longer than a short story—but shorter than a novel?”
“That's my understanding.”
“Well, that same description can apply to relationships, too.”
“So if I take your meaning, you're saying that your marriage to Andrew Townsend is not about to get a sequel?”
“Correct.” Her response was unemotional.
Evan was silent for a moment as she sat regarding the other woman. “I'm curious.”
“About why you would volunteer information like this to me within the first five minutes of our conversation.”
Julia turned her face toward the windows that ran along the back wall of the office. “Andy and I had a bargain—and I held up my end.” She shifted her long, brown hair back over her shoulder. Evan noticed that she wasn't wearing a wedding band. “I've done my stint as first lady. Let's just say it's not a role I'm willing to reprise,” she brought her eyes back to Evan's face, “no matter how much Marcus Goldman wants me to.”
Evan thought she saw a flicker of something in Julia's eyes. The hair stood up on the back of her neck. “Wait a minute—exactly why do you think I'm here today?”
Julia looked surprised by her question. “I assumed that Marcus sent you here as his emissary.”
“It that what Dan told you?” Evan was becoming agitated and was trying hard not to show it. Goddamn fucking Marcus.
Julia shrugged. “Dan didn't say much of anything—other than to tell me that the party had hired you to help out with vetting Andy—and improving his odds at becoming their next nominee.”
Evan sat tapping her toe in agitation. “So you thought that meant I was here to strong-arm you into signing-on for another tour of duty as Townsend's doting wife?”
“In fact, I don't think I've ever actually doted on anyone—but, yes. That's more or less what I thought.” She paused. “Was I wrong?”
Evan stood up and paced across the office. She stood looking out the big window at the traffic on East 60 th Street. Cars were crawling along now. She could tell that rush hour was heating up. She shook her head and turned back to face the publisher, who sat watching her with what appeared to be calm indifference.
“Yeah. You were wrong.” She walked back over and reclaimed her seat. A thought occurred to her. “Do you like to cook?”
Julia looked at her with a puzzled expression. “No.”
“So, you eat out a lot? Restaurants, take-out—that kind of thing?'
“I suppose so.”
“Like Indian food?”
“Not even a little bit.” She met Evan's eyes. “Why? Are you asking me out?”
Evan was startled by her directness. Embarrassed—and surprised. “No.” She could feel herself growing anxious again. What the fuck was going on here? She dropped her gaze, and then felt pissed at herself for looking away. “I'm sorry if I offended you.”
Julia was quiet for so long that Evan thought she had just made things worse. When she finally spoke, her voice held a trace more warmth. “I'm not at all offended.”
Evan looked back at her. Jesus. Her blue eyes really were hypnotic. They stared at each other for a few seconds before Julia glanced down at her watch.
“I'm sorry to cut this short, Evan, but I've got a 5:30 conference call.” She stood up. “Could we continue this conversation another time? When will you be back in New York ?”
Evan stood up as well. “That depends on your definition of ‘another time.' I could be back as early as Monday.” She deliberated about how much to say. “I'm spending the weekend in Troy with my daughter.”
“That's right—Dan said she was a student at Emma.”
Evan didn't quite succeed at hiding her smile. “She's a freshman—it's her first year away from home.”
“I see. And how is that going?”
“I think she's doing great.”
Julia smiled. “I meant for you.”
Evan was nonplussed. “I'm—okay.” She smiled shyly. “In fact—it sucks. Scissors.” Julia laughed. “But I'm managing.”
Julia walked over to her desk and tapped a key on her laptop. Her calendar popped up on the screen. “How about lunch on Monday?” She met Evan's eyes again. “You can even try to make me eat Indian food, if you like.”
Evan shook her head. “I've got a better idea. What's the most expensive place in the Upper East Side to eat lunch?”
“Because Marcus will be paying.”
Julia smiled. “David Burke Townhouse.”
“Do they take reservations?”
“Great. What time?”
Julia looked back at her monitor. “One-thirty?”
Evan nodded. “I'll see you there.”
Every time Evan set foot on Emma Willard's manicured campus, she spent the first ten minutes regretting her decision to send her daughter there. But that was one argument about Stevie's future that she let Dan win. His sister, mother, and grandmother were all alumnae of the historic prep school for girls, and they waged a full-court press to have Stevie take her place in line with the rest of the Cohen women. Evan's initial opposition to this scheme took a nosedive when Stevie fell in love with the school during an open-house visit two years ago. That forced her to rethink the whole scenario.
So she did what she did—literally. She spent weeks researching the pros and cons of single sex education for girls. And the realities surprised her. Teenage girls, it seemed, got a whole lot stupider when they were grouped together with teenage boys. Hardly a news flash, if you thought about it. Evan's own public school education in and around southwest Philly was a prime example. She learned more in the backseat of a Chevy than she ever did in a science lab.
The simple truth was that girls deserved a better shot at life than that. They needed the tools and the time to make good decisions. If most of them were destined to fuck up over some guy sooner or later, then at least it could be later —after they'd had a chance to figure out who they really were.
But this was Parent's Weekend—and it gave Evan the chance to meet with Stevie's teachers, attend a class or two, and watch an evening showcase of student ‘talent.' What mattered more to Evan was the opportunity it gave her to spend a weekend with her daughter. She hated to admit how empty the house in Chadds Ford was without the 14 year-old. Stevie had been living at the private girls academy near Albany for over two months now, and this would be Evan's first visit since she left her there in August, loaded down with clothes, bed linens, her bike, and 15 rolls of quarters—Stevie had to do her own laundry.
She booked a two-room suite at the nearby Morgan State House B&B, thinking it would be the most homelike place for them to spend the weekend together. She dropped her bags off, and drove her rental car the short distance to Mt. Ida and the Emma campus, so she could sign Stevie out for the weekend. Sign her out. Christ. It was worse than trying to take a reference book out of a library. She thought back over her recent encounter with that Valkyrie at the Library of Congress. Nope. Even escaping from this joint with somebody else's kid would be a helluva lot easier than that.
She parked her car in a visitor's lot near Kiggins Hall and made her way toward the freshman dorm where Stevie now lived. There were cozy-looking family groups all over the place. Most of the adults were wearing nametags. Evan rolled her eyes. Great.
Inside the hall, a makeshift reception area had been set up. Evan approached a table that held a stack of fat file folders. A frizzy-haired girl in a red Emma sweatshirt looked up at her as she approached.
“Hi. Are you a parent?” She held a clipboard that contained what looked like a list of names.
“Yes. I'm Stephanie Cohen's mother.”
The girl looked down at her list. “Got it.” She checked off a name, and then reached over to sift through the pile of folders. “Here you go.” She held one out to Evan. “This is your schedule and information packet.” She smiled at Evan. “I hope you enjoy the weekend.”
Evan looked down at her folder, and at the nametag taped to its front. Evangeline Reed. Shit. She knew that someplace, her mother was laughing like hell. “Thanks. I'll try.”
She turned away from the table and began to make her way toward the stairs when she heard Stevie's voice.
Evan looked over toward the lounge and saw her daughter making her way across the lobby. She was dressed in dark jeans and a purple sweatshirt, and she was the spitting image of Dan. Evan thought she looked thinner.
Stevie ran the last few steps and hugged her. Evan was surprised. It wasn't usual for her daughter to be so demonstrative. She hugged her back. Stevie smelled like cinnamon.
“Have you been eating Altoids?” Evan asked.
Stevie dug into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small tin box. She shook it back and forth like a rattle. “Yeah, and I'm almost out.”
Evan smiled at her and pushed a loose strand of blond hair back behind her ear. “Well then, it looks like my timing is perfect.”
“I'll say.” Stevie shoved the tin back into her pocket and looked down at the file folder Evan was holding. She smirked when she saw the nametag. “I had nothing to do with that.”
“Yeah. Right.” Evan flicked the edge of the nametag with her index finger. “Know where I can get a blank one?”
“I don't believe you.”
Stevie shrugged. “It sucks being you, then.”
Evan agreed. “Sometimes it does.”
They smiled at each other. Stevie gestured toward the lounge where she had been waiting.
“Can we go? I've got my bag and I'm already signed-out.”
Evan was surprised. “You don't wanna show me around first?”
“Not really. I figured we do all of that tomorrow.”
Stevie nodded. “I'm starving.”
“Where do you wanna go?”
Stevie started walking toward the lounge. “Zaika. It's in Albany , and they have great pakora.”
“Sounds good to me.” She looked over at Stevie. Her daughter was already as tall as she was—but that wasn't saying a lot. Evan was barely five-five. “You don't look like you've been eating much of anything.”
“Yeah, well. The food here isn't really all that.”
“Oh, really? I thought this joint had a slew of first-rate chefs?”
Stevie rolled her eyes. “Mom, it's a boarding school—not a cruise ship.”
“What? No shuffleboard after dinner?”
“You're such a dork.” Stevie bumped her arm. “Dad called.”
Evan was surprised. “He did?”
“Yeah. He said he was sorry he couldn't make it.” She looked over at Evan. “He told me you were working together again.”
“We will be for a little while. I'm doing some research for him.”
Stevie stopped to pick up an overstuffed blue backpack. “Looking for dirt on Senator Townsend?”
Evan looked at her with surprise. “Have you been watching Fox News again?”
Stevie rolled her eyes. “Gag. Not likely. Dad told me.”
“What else did he tell you?”
“He told me that Senator Townsend might run for president in two years.” They started walking toward the exit. Stevie waved at a group of girls standing near the door. They waved back. “My suitemates,” she explained.
“Do you like it here?” Evan asked. She thought her voice sounded neutral enough.
“Yeah.” Stevie looked at her. “A lot. Why?”
Evan felt embarrassed for asking. “I don't know. I wondered if you ever got lonely.”
“You mean—do I ever miss being at home with you?”
Evan met Stevie's green eyes. God, the kid really did look like Dan. She nodded.
Stevie smiled at her. In that moment, Evan felt like the teenager in the relationship. “Yeah, mom,” she said. “I miss you, too.”
Evan's Monday morning “express” train back to New York City was running about 45 minutes late, so she took advantage of the down time to grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks and check her email. She had two from Johnny Sloan. Johnny was a college pal who now worked as an under-secretary in the Virginia Public Records Office in Richmond. Evan sent him the tag number from the black Saab that had been parked behind Townsend's house, and asked him to do a quick records search on the owner.
Johnny usually bitched about helping her out, and insisted that one day, she was going to get his ass fired—but he always came through. He owed her. She got him laid three years ago at a ViCAP seminar in San Diego , and he ended up marrying the woman. Evan figured that as long as their marital bliss endured, she'd continue to get prompt service from the Commonwealth PRO.
Johnny's first email was straightforward—containing only the name and address of the car's owner and the Saab's VIN number. The second email was a bit more intriguing. Well, well. Evan shot a quick email off to Liz at the State Department to see if anything pinged in her database. Then she logged into Yale's online alumni community using Dan's password, and did a little poking around. Bingo. She thought that name sounded familiar. Townsend said he had nothing to hide—and given how easily she found this, she guessed he might have been telling the truth.
She sat back and picked up her latte—sniffing at it with disgust. God. Starbucks coffee sucked. It even smelled bad. Just like this job. What the hell was Dan thinking? He didn't need her for this textbook, petty-ante bullshit. She fished her phone out of her messenger bag and sent him a quick text message, asking to see him when he got back to D.C.
She smiled, thinking about her lunch date. But it's not like she wouldn't enjoy making Marcus choke on her expense report. She hoped this David Burke joint had a premier wine list.
Too bad she wouldn't have any more excuses to meet with the good-looking publisher after today.
Townsend's wife was intriguing. And forthcoming. That part was a surprise. Evan wondered what else she might be willing to reveal. Why she stayed enmeshed in a name-only marriage, for instance? Or what led her to hold Marcus in such disdain?
No. That one wasn't hard to figure out. Anyone with a triple-digit I.Q. could see through Marcus. And Julia Donne had plenty of smarts. Poise, looks, and smarts.
She looked at her watch. The train was now over an hour late. Christ. “Express” my ass. She sat tapping her cell phone against her knee and wondered if she should call Donne and give her a heads-up? No. She still had four hours—plenty of time to get there. And calling her this early was unnecessary. She sighed. And flimsy. She looked at her watch again. Who was she kidding? She just didn't want to look pathetic.
Even though she was.
When Evan walked into David Burke Townhouse a hair before 1:30, the host looked up from behind his white lacquered podium and smiled at her.
“Ms. Reed? Your party has already arrived.” Before she had a chance to wonder how he knew who she was, he had snapped up a menu and indicated that she should follow him.
Evan tried not to gape as she walked between the rows of tables and padded booths. The place had an abundance of mirrors, whimsical artwork, and couches upholstered in fabric that would make an Ocelot wince. Christ , Evan thought. It looks like a gay man exploded in here. The décor was a collision of red, black, and white. She recalled that Julia had said the prices here were high—she never said anything about the quality of the food. Evan began to have doubts about the wisdom of meeting here. Any of the dozen hot dog vendors she'd passed on East 61 st Street were beginning to look like better choices.
The host led her into a smaller dining room at the back of the establishment, and she saw Julia, calmly regarding her from a corner table near an open fireplace. She was wearing a black suit with a tailored white shirt. Evan wondered if she had planned her ensemble in advance. Suddenly, the décor didn't seem quite so offensive.
The host held her chair while she sat down, then handed her the menu and departed. Julia smiled at her.
“I saw you looking around as you walked back here. It's kind of overwhelming, isn't it?”
Evan picked up her napkin. It was nearly the size of a bed sheet. “I have to confess that I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of eating here. It's certainly— eclectic.”
Julia laughed out loud. “It does exude a certain Holiday Inn quality.”
Evan leaned toward her and lowered her voice. “Is the food any good?”
Julia nodded. “Oh, yes. Thankfully, Mr. Burke's culinary gifts dwarf his uneven attempts at interior design.”
“How was Parent Day?”
Evan smiled. “Parent Day was about what you'd expect—a shameless sales pitch, engineered to make us all feel good about the ridiculous sums of money we're shelling out to teach our daughters how to stand up straight.”
Julia looked amused. “And how is your daughter's posture coming along?”
“I'm happy to say that she still slouches with the best of them.”
“She must take after you, then.”
Evan was surprised. “Are you saying that I slouch?” Against her will, she sat up straighter in her chair.
Julia seemed to notice. She smiled. “No. I'm saying that she must share your streak of nonconformity.”
Evan sat back and regarded her. “I thought I was here to dissect you?”
“I'm not very complicated. I fear you'd lose interest pretty quickly.”
Evan met her blue eyes. “I don't think there's much danger of that.”
Their waiter approached to ask if they'd had a chance to consider their beverage options. He told them they were featuring a very nice Spragia Gamble Ranch Chardonnay. He described it as dry, light, crisp—and $125 a bottle. Evan nodded enthusiastically. He smiled and departed.
Julia raised an eyebrow. “You weren't kidding about that expense report, were you?”
“Oh? Does that mean you're not picking up the tab? Damn.”
Julia shook her head. “I'm afraid that my efforts to make Marcus suffer tend more toward the visceral.”
Evan was interested in that. “Meaning?”
“I'd be more inclined to bite his ankles than spend his money.”
“Well then, let's agree to pool our efforts. You can bite his ankles—an appalling image, by the way—and I'll spend his money.”
Julia raised her water glass. “Deal.”
They clinked rims.
“So. Since we're technically still on your nickel, what else did you want to ask me about?”
Evan deliberated. About a thousand responses to that question occurred to her—most of them unrelated to Andy Townsend. But until she met with Dan on Tuesday, she was still on the job. Anything else would have to wait. She sighed and looked over at Julia, whose expression was unreadable. It wasn't fair. But not much in life ever was. She took another sip from her water glass. Might as well fill in a few blanks while she had the chance.
“You met Andy at Yale? Is that right?”
Julia lifted her chin slightly. For a second, Evan thought she looked disappointed.
“Yes. We met during my sophomore year at a Yale Democrats rally. Bill Clinton was speaking, and Andy and I were on the steering committee.”
“And you started dating right away?”
“Not right away. Andy already had a girlfriend—and I thought he was an arrogant prick.”
Evan was startled by her directness. “Really?”
Julia raised an eyebrow. “Does that surprise you?”
“Well, no. But your use of the word ‘prick' does.”
Julia laughed. “It's a perfectly good, Saxon word. Don't assume that I can't curse like a sailor just because I publish books by Hawthorne and Melville.”
“I beg your pardon.” Evan snorted. “You must be a hoot during fleet week.”
Julia smiled, but made no response.
Evan continued with her line of questions. “I guess you already know that Andy met Dan during their junior year abroad?”
“Yes. They went to Jordan to study the Lost City at Petra.”
“You were involved with Andy by then, correct?”
“But you didn't go abroad?”
“Yes, I did—just not to Jordan. I spent a year in Oxford.”
“Learning the family business?”
Julia looked amused. “You might say that.”
Their waiter arrived with the wine. After serving them, he reviewed the lunch specials. They both made selections from the three-course pre fixe menu. Evan took another sip of the cold wine. She wasn't usually partial to Chardonnays, but the waiter hadn't misled them: it was very good.
Julia set her own wine glass down. “If you don't mind my asking, how did you meet Dan?”
Evan met her eyes. Against the backdrop of so much black and white, they looked almost neon. “It's not that dissimilar from your own fabled love story. We were both in grad school at Penn. ” She chuckled. “We met at a Bill Clinton rally, too.”
Julia laughed. “It appears that our 42 nd president has a lot to account for.”
“No kidding.” Evan sighed. “But in my case, it was more a function of too many tequila shooters, followed by a massive infusion of bad judgment.”
“Yeah. Let's just say that an unintentional one-night stand culminated in a gift that keeps on giving.”
“Oh?” Julia had crossed her arms on the table, and was leaning forward.
“Oh, yeah.” Evan sighed. “Are you Catholic, Julia?”
Julia shook her head. “Congregationalist.”
“Of course.” Evan rolled her eyes. “Well. Let me put it this way: growing up Catholic is like going through life with a big piece of cosmic toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe. You do your best to ignore it—but when push comes to shove, you just can't shake it off. And then you find yourself tripping over it at the most inopportune times—like when you find out you're pregnant at the ripe old age of 24.”
“Precisely.” Evan shook her head. “I knew it was a complete mistake—I knew that I had no business going through with it. I knew that I was probably the least likely person on the planet to ever have a kid.” She was leaning forward now, too. “I was and am adamantly pro-choice—but, somehow, I just couldn't do it. It was an incredible, surreal predicament for me. Suddenly, I was in a place I never thought I'd be—facing choices I never thought I'd have to make.” She shook her head. “There was no pat, political platitude I could fall back on. Not a single one. And there was Dan—begging me to get married.”
“Did you love him?”
Evan looked at her like she had just sprouted a second head. “Love him? Hell, no. I fucked him, Julia. Once. Just to see what it would be like.” She laughed. “It was ridiculous. I knew I was gay.” Julia's eyes stared back at her, revealing nothing. Damn, the woman must be one hell of a card player. “But I did it anyway.”
“You didn't marry him.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No. But Dan adopted Stevie—and in his offhand and clumsy fashion, he's actually a pretty decent father. He won't win any awards for attentiveness—but he hasn't screwed up too badly yet, either.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Evan realized that she had been doing entirely too much of the talking. It was unlike her. Very unlike her. She took a healthy sip from her wine glass. She hadn't eaten any breakfast, and the stuff was really starting to make her head feel fuzzy.
“Hey?” She waved her glass at the publisher. “This is supposed to be your inquisition, not mine.” She chuckled. “Maybe I should let you pick up the tab.”
Julia smiled at her. “How about I pick it up next time?”
Evan couldn't hide her smile. Yeah. Fuzzy. Right now, fuzzy was feeling just fine.
Back in Chadds Ford that night, Evan had time to sit on her back porch with a mug of hot tea and try to figure out how far she was willing to go with the Townsend job. The senator himself, although not squeaky-clean, was at least enough of a Ward Cleaver clone to make any serial gossipmonger lose interest after a few days of salacious headlines. He could weather that—especially if Dan got ahead of it and leaked it selectively. Evan picked up the yellow notepad from the table next to her rocker. His “hobby,” however—now she was another story.
Evan sighed. Christ. It would get interesting—just when she had made up her mind to walk away.
Liz had emailed her back from State. The owner of the black Saab had a profile about two miles long. And most of the intel was classified. Liz couldn't offer it up—not even to her.
Evan and Liz had engaged in an on-again/off-again thing ever since they met two years ago, over the raw bar at a K Street shindig—and for the last six months, it had been mostly off-again. Liz was probably pissed at her—this email exchange was the first contact Evan had initiated with her since they spent the night together after a drunken encounter last Easter.
Shit. She really needed to clean up her act. She thought for the hundredth time about her lunch date. Give it up. There's no way. And even if there were, did she really want to go pissing in Townsend's pond? That was hardly professional. She finished her tea and sat staring into the empty mug. She wanted a drink. But she was only starting to shake off the buzz that hovered around her all afternoon after downing most of that bottle of wine. Julia drank only one glass. What the hell kind of restraint was that?
Restraint. Yeah. That summarized her to a T. Evan wondered what size claw hammer it would take to break through restraint like that?
When they parted, Julia told her that she'd be in Philadelphia next week for a bookseller's conference. She said she'd call Evan if she could shake free. They could do dinner on her expense account, she said, and Evan could order the most expensive wine on the menu. Evan recalled Julia's facial expression when she suggested that—she thought she caught a glimpse of something lurking behind her reserve. But she had no idea what it was.
Evan was startled when a Night Hawk landed on the porch railing, just a few feet away from her. It wasn't completely dark yet, and there was a full moon, so she could see it's telltale wing markings clearly. It seemed to sit and stare back at her. It was unclear which one of them was more amazed at the anomaly of seeing the other. Evan was confused because these particular birds generally made tracks for the southern Border States sometime in late August. The rest of the year, they liked to hang out in the woods at the back of her property, and make quick trips in after nightfall to pick at the lichen that covered the fieldstone on the north side of her house. Seeing one this late in the year was very unusual.
The hawk continued to stare at her. You're a misfit like me , his gaze seemed to say. And you're stuck here, too.
She found it hard to argue with logic like that.
To be continued.
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