Ecochondriacs [30]

Please note well: In case you were wondering, even though November is over, I will be publishing the rest of this book here, section by section. But if you can’t wait to see how it ends, you can order this book in hard copy, and the link for that is here. In addition, audio chapters are being recorded and released on the new Canon App.

The Trap Sprung

Billy Jerome was starting to mull over whether or not he actually wanted to be the vice-president. He wavering in his soul, what there was left of it. Deep down, he really did believe the things he would say in his speeches. Put another way, he agreed with himself. He wasn’t just saying things to get elected. He wasn’t that kind of hypocrite.

He had been a different kind of hypocrite. He didn’t actually live up to the standards that he applauded, particularly in his thought life. But it had been many years since he had strayed from his marriage vows, and his wife Ursula had forgiven him— after a brutal six months in counseling—and he had done right by that staffer Sheila and their most inconvenient boy, Thad.

Critics would call it hush money, but Billy always liked to tell himself that he would have been happy to pay that kind of support even if their ongoing silence had not been necessary for his career. And that reassuring thought might even have been true. He was a kindly man, but weak in some unfortunate places, and strong in the wrong ones.

The visit he had received two days before from a couple of key donors—furniture manufacturers from the Midwest—had delivered the shock. But it wasn’t entirely a shock because he had been halfway braced for it ever since his political career had begun to take off. The shocking part was that these two reliable Republican donors were accompanied by a third young man who, as soon as the door was closed, did all the talking. His name was Blake and he was actually an operative with the DNC, and was in full possession of the fun facts with regard to Billy’s indiscretion from so many years before.

The two furniture manufacturers were there in their capacity of mules. They brought Blake, and Blake brought the blackmail. They were how Blake was going to get a chance to talk to Billy Jerome, and as a couple of good old boy libertarian donors who had just lately arrived in the big leagues, it had been a piece of cake for the opposition research team to find out about a few facts concerning them that could easily land them in prison for three to five years. It turns out that there are behaviors that are widely accepted at libertarian conferences that don’t really comport with the laws as they are currently structured. This is particularly the case if we are talking about fifteen-year-old girls, which we are.

And so Blake had visited them a few days before, and explained to them how they were going to arrange for a meeting with the vice-presidential candidate, and they were going to promise a sizable enough check as to gain them a meeting with the candidate, and they were going to take him with them, and then he explained that two things were going to happen at the meeting. First, they were going to hand over the six-figure check to Billy Jerome, making him happy, and then they were going to sit silently while Blake explained the position of affairs to Billy, making him sad, and then they were going to go home and forget about the whole thing.

Billy had been reeling since that meeting. Well, to be more accurate, he had reeled for two days, and then spent the three days after that on the teeter-totter. If he did what they said, his own team would simply think that he had had a bad night. Nobody would know. He could simply let a gaffe slip, and everybody would be disappointed. But that would be all. He could do that and clean up the mess afterwards. He could be the best vice-presidential candidate ever after that point.

But he had been in politics a long time. He knew that if they had him over a barrel now, they would still have him over a barrel after he took a dive in the debate. What would prevent them from bringing the screws back again? A sense of honor? Billy chuckled in spite of himself.

Then he grew serious again. They could still roll out the existence of his former mistress and his long-lost son two weeks before the election. And he knew, down in his bones he knew, that this is exactly what they would do. In other words, if he caved, he wouldn’t be buying silence. He would only be buying a few weeks of silence. That wouldn’t benefit him really at all.

And now that it came to the point, the thing that horrified Billy about everything the most was having to face McFetridge, who had been really decent to him. That was the part he dreaded. “Why didn’t you tell us?” would be the question of the hour, and to that question there could be no satisfactory answer.

So he could take a dive, but he was canny enough to know that this would just postpone the revelation for a month or so. Wouldn’t fix anything. He could refuse to take a dive, and then wait in a cold sweat for the moment that they found most convenient to hang him out to dry. What other options were there?

He could go tell McFetridge himself, and submit a letter of resignation. That seemed kind of drastic, even though he knew full well that it wasn’t drastic at all. More like fully appropriate. He wasn’t emotionally ready for that yet either. And all these options were why he had been wavering in his soul. Very unpleasant it was.

He even tried praying for a little bit, and after about ten minutes of that he called himself pathetic and lame, walked out to the outer office in a glowering mood and told his driver to bring the car around. Then he huffed back into the office and sat in his swivel chair, glaring at the ceiling. After just a few minutes, which seemed to him like half an hour, his phone buzzed. His driver was out front.

Billy walked out the door, his Secret Service men clustered around him, and they headed out. As he was walking out, an idea hit him. Maybe it was the prayer. But maybe not. Not sure.

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