Keep Waterloo Weird
In this exclusive excerpt from WATERLOO, Karen Olsson’s forthcoming novel about life, love, and politics in a capital city that very much resembles our own, a candidate for governor arrives, an ex-congressman departs, and a reporter tries to make sense of it all.
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HIS ABILITY TO PUT TASKS in sequence was the first thing to go. William Stanley Sabert, the former congressman, ambled into the kitchen, carrying in his good hand, the left one, a glass tumbler. With the weaker hand, the only partially recovered right, he pressed a sheaf of papers to his ribs, but not carefully enough: His attention slipped, and then the papers slipped; they fluttered to the floor. Pick them up, he told himself. He could not. Certain capillaries in his brain had gone dry; they dangled like shrunken empty gloves. He couldn’t pick up the legal pad pages he’d covered with notes or the hearing transcripts or—where did that come from?—the Christmas card that had slid out from the sprawl. The notion of retrieving all of it loomed and then faded, as showers of tiny particles, boluses, bits and pieces of the midbrain clot that had just exploded inside his head infiltrated the network of his vessels. He couldn’t pick up the pages on the floor because first he would have had to put the drinking glass down. He would have had to lean over. He would have had to reach for the papers and clasp them with his good hand. The sequence of steps had escaped him.
It was his third stroke, though, and he did have an idea of the enemy. He fought back. He’d come into the kitchen to fix something to eat. He intended to do that. No matter that making a sandwich was a more complex task than fetching the papers that had fallen. He opened the refrigerator and set his drinking glass on the top shelf, next to the orange juice. He closed the refrigerator. He took a bag of English muffins from the bread box, pulled open the oven door, and placed the bag inside the oven. Next, tuna fish—but as he straightened himself, Sabert saw only color, throbbing reds and greens. When the room returned, pale and blurry, his eyes were flooded. He touched his sleeve to his face.
Dishes sat in the sink; errant cashews and flakes of cereal lurked under the cabinets; mice lived in the bread box. And that was just the kitchen. There were also the hairs clouding the bathroom floor, the towels heaped in a corner, the bottle of chardonnay forgotten in the toilet tank. A shelf in the bedroom closet had collapsed, and a hail of campaign buttons and umbrellas and old photographs and the silver serving forks from his first marriage (Delia had taken the spoons) had landed among shoes and old pine inserts. For all his storied acuity, his talent for clarification, for cutting through legislative knots in a few incisive strokes, Will Sabert had always been a force of entropy.
And now these papers spilled across the linoleum. He’d collected them to show the reporter, to help explain the work that had engaged him over the past year. What a relief, a pleasure, to have stumbled upon such a project, one that gave shape to his solitary days. High time he revealed it to someone. A legal method: He had discovered it, having devoted to that end many weeks of research, quite a lot of sorting through precedent and records of international tribunals. A method to end all wars, this was, entailing minimal adjustments to current statutes and treaty agreements. He had condensed the argument in favor of it, that is to say the argument for ending war, to a simple, watertight petition that could be understood by any high school student. It was clear, after all, that the wars of the twentieth century had been unjust, unnecessary, and, without question, inefficient from the point of view of costs. He’d hoped to live long enough to expand his premise into a book, but lately he’d begun to fear otherwise. Hence his plan to go over it all with the reporter. There was some doubt in his mind, though, as to whether the reporter had already come and gone?
The first stroke had been almost twenty years earlier: a tingling on the way to the cafeteria, and by the time he’d sat down to eat, his hand and arm had gone numb. He pretended to have lost his appetite. By later that afternoon, he was back to normal. He went on working just as before.
The next one had followed his retirement. A headache, unlike any headache he’d ever had. Icicles splitting his skull into pieces. A trip to the hospital, a poor prognosis. That time his whole right side crumpled, and proper names hid themselves. He could say the words “son” and “daughter,” but the names of his own children wouldn’t give themselves up.
Now his mind was beset by a cascade, a closet shelf falling, an avalanche of old possessions. His children, his mother, his first bicycle, his dog. The fountain he and his brother had ridden their bicycles to on the terraced grounds of the state capitol, a fountain long since bulldozed to make way for office buildings and parking garages. Its water had spouted from pink gargoyles’ mouths. There, one terrible, hot day when he was ten or eleven, an older boy trying to hawk a few bruised peaches had taken a swing at Will after Will had called him a capitalist. He dodged the punch. His little brother Robbie had gotten it instead. Smacked in the face. Bloody nose. Scared to fight, Will had grabbed Robbie’s arm and run away. This was his last memory.
No one was there to see the former congressman back up against the countertop and slide down the cabinet face. His shirt caught against a drawer pull and tore; his hip fractured; his great old moppy head fell to one side and was still.
THE BALLROOM WAS PACKED AND ANXIOUS. As usual there were no windows. Swags of royal-blue bunting hung above a long dais, and tacked to the bunting was a banner, red with white lettering. “Hardaway,” it read. More words below—something something “Values!”—but Nick Lasseter couldn’t see the first two words for all the heads and waving arms in front of him. A cheerful crowd of the neat and tidy had filled the hotel’s third-largest function room, arms touching, hairdos glistening under the television lights. People scanned the room, signaling one another with raised hands and open mouths.
Nick did not wave, nor did anyone wave to him. Having been swept up by a current pressing toward the coffee urns, he was floundering in an eddy of middle-aged women wearing scarves and stickpins. He bobbled silently in their midst.
He was a reporter, albeit not the most dedicated. He made phone calls, he knocked on doors, he injected himself into other people’s lives, into situations, at times unpleasant or terrifically dull situations that most people would take pains to avoid. Then he wrote about them for the Waterloo Weekly, an alternative newspaper specializing in music listings and futon advertisements. As Nick himself was an avoider by instinct, the going wasn’t always smooth. Or even ambulatory. In work as in life, he delayed; he argued with himself. He waited for some kind of a sign. Once, he’d heard his name announced over an airport public address system, and a woman with a nice-sounding voice had instructed him to proceed immediately to gate number seventeen. This had excited him.
He covered news and politics. He’d never been a bona fide politics junkie (since the type of gossip that gave the junkies their fix, such as who might be angling to enter the next race for state comptroller, numbed his very organs), but chronicling the follies of those in power had for a time imbued him with a sense of purpose—however limited, however faltering. That sense of purpose had faded, though. The disappointments of politics were like the weather: Unpredictable as the daily fluctuations were, the same seasonal patterns repeated themselves year after year so that the only real change lay in the fact that things were slowly getting worse. Global warming, productivity slowdown, a sluggishness spreading among the citizenry, right-wingers in the ascendant. Nick schlepped around to press conferences and wrote about them in a weekly column. He tried to avoid longer assignments. At 32, he had almost relinquished the idea of conducting himself with purpose, indeed was bearish on the very possibility of conducting himself at all, rather than forever feeling as if he were being dragged along behind his own life by means of a rope attached to his pants.
“Can you hear me? Is this okay?” On the dais, a lone gangly figure bent over the microphone, his cheeks pink, his long tie a pendulum, his hands in his pants pockets. He looked out at the row of cameras across the room, and a couple cameramen raised their thumbs in reply.
Oh, to be a cameraman. The cameramen, really more like camera guys, like guys you’d invite over to watch a ball game or help build a carport, were endowed with a kind of silent, geekish authority because of their equipment. Big black video cameras on six-foot tripods anchored the camera guys to a particular spot, where they belonged, where they stood with feet planted wide. Everyone else was in motion. Everyone else squeezed and nudged and if necessary resorted to outright pushing, and when they found a spot, they still weren’t still; they craned their necks and bounced up on their toes. They clapped, at intervals, for no reason at all. The worst were the campaign staffers: sleep-deprived, half-deranged people with stickers on their lapels and cell phones clamped to their ears, ducking this way and that, colliding and then parting again. But even the reporters in the press area were—with the exception of the inertial Sonny Muñiz, political columnist for the Standard-American—circling their territory like big dogs in a very small park.
Nick himself avoided designated press areas, media sign-in tables, question-and-answer periods. He’d never been keen on joining that particular club, and as a writer for a barely respectable publication, he wasn’t quite the club’s cup of tea either. He kept his notebook in his back pocket and removed it only when necessary. He didn’t dress like a reporter, not like the middle-aged newspaperman in his baggy flak vest full of pens or the television correspondent in her stiff suit. Nick wore glasses with black plastic rims and black boots and black jeans, thick, dark items to offset his lack of bulk.
Over a loudspeaker, music started to play. Electronic horns, electronic drumming: the theme from Rocky. Not a tune that lent itself to clapping, but people were clapping anyway, searching for the beat, eager for the show to start.
There it was: a bubble in the collective chest. Nick could feel it. The staffers, the lobbyists, the old-timers, even a few onlookers from hotel management had all gathered, not unwillingly, here in the Lamar Room with its stain-resistant wallpaper and obese chandelier. They seemed happy to be here, on tiptoes although there was nothing to see yet. No one was safe from it, not even Nick, hard as he tried to keep his pulse from elevating in situations involving politicians and the Rocky theme. And what was it? Difficult to say. Something mysterious conjured like life in a test tube by this roomful of human chemicals all sweating and waiting and clapping, excited because the television cameras were here, excited because elected officials were here, jazzed by a second-rate candidate for statewide office, yes, but jazzed anyway! Never mind that the evening news and elected officials were normally subjects of ridicule. It was a bad movie that made you cry in spite of yourself. Nick was a sucker for those sentimental movie moments, and his heart was thumping now. To the theme from Rocky.
Nuh-nuh nuhhhh, nuh-nuh nuhhhh.
The candidate was making his way toward the podium, accompanied by a man Nick recognized as a state senator and a woman he thought he recognized but couldn’t identify. He’d seen her picture somewhere. In a cranberry-colored suit and shimmery blouse, her plucked eyebrows arching high over her eyes, her teeth flashing, she looked like an official photograph.
Nick scanned the crowd again and accidentally made eye contact with Mark Hardaway’s press secretary—a short, stolid woman who spoke in short, stern sentences, a former daily reporter and a fixture of the political scene. Looking at Nick, she pointed to the designated press area: Go. People associated with campaigns, Nick had noticed, liked to give orders. He peeped over at the reporters’ area, a disagreeably small, thronged corral, and stayed where he was, pretending not to have noticed the instruction. Out of the corner of his eye he could tell the press secretary was still signaling him to move.
All right. Fine.
But blocking his path was a broad woman in a wrinkled jacket. “Excuse me,” he said. The woman didn’t react. He touched her jacket and tried again. “Excuse me?”
The woman turned and looked at Nick as if he were slathered in shit, then stepped several millimeters to the left. He wormed his way past her and through the audience and into the reporters’ area. For the sake of something to do, he took his phone from his pocket and checked its digital window for the time. On it was a picture of a question mark doing some sort of end zone dance. Missed call. Maybe from Liza.
Earlier that morning, Liza had phoned, which was not her habit. He’d been sitting there in his work area, in his socks, staring at his screen saver of busy fish, and had arrived at a decision to stretch. Lifting his arms overhead, he’d caught sight of Trixie Moss marching grimly in his direction, inclined forward and frowning, which could only mean that his last (admittedly rather lame) column had incurred her copy editor’s displeasure or that there had been some new development in her divorce proceedings. Swiftly, he brought his arms down and snatched up the phone to pretend he was on a call, but instead of a dial tone he heard Liza’s “Hello?”
“I didn’t hear the phone ring.”
“But you answered it?”
“It was an accident.”
“A good accident,” he added in vain. Her voice sounded flat, and he wondered whether something had happened and then whether somebody close to her had fallen ill, or perhaps died. Without quite intending to, he thought of Miles, a friend of hers from childhood (though very much full grown now, brawny and carnivorous) whom she’d started dating after she and Nick had split up. He thought of Miles keeling over, of Miles giving the bucket a good manly kick. He was still working through this idea when Liza asked whether he could meet her for a drink that evening. He’d said yes. Seeing her was something he wanted to do just about every evening, and he’d allowed himself, if only fleetingly, to hope that something might come of it. Yet he guessed by her tone of voice that she hadn’t asked him for a drink so that they could make out afterward in front of her parked car the way he was imagining, nor was she going to disclose that Miles had unexpectedly perished, and so although he wanted to see her in general, the prospect of this particular rendezvous, its purpose unclear but serious, made him queasy.
Now he flipped open his cell phone and saw that this recent call had come from his uncle. He snapped the phone shut.
The tubby, perspiring Senator Comal, who because of his untelegenic appearance and two divorces would never be tapped to run for statewide office, began his introduction. I want to tell y’all about a great man and a great leader, Comal began. Raised in a small town. Has small-town values. Educated at our state university. Enlisted in the United States Navy. Farmland Insurance. City council. State Assembly. A wife and two children. Parents still living in the same small town. At last Comal yelled out Hardaway’s name, and the candidate stepped forward to the microphone, squinting a little and mugging at the row of cameras with their gaping black eyes. The clapping quickened; girlish “whoo!” noises floated up from the crowd; flashes whined and strobed.
As Nick understood it, Mark (“Shares Your Values!”) Hardaway had been plucked from the obscurity of a city council in the western part of the state—having impressed the local kingmakers with his cast-iron jawline and treadmill physique, not to mention a congenial malleability when it came to his positions—and thrust into one race for state Assembly and five years later into another for his current position, commissioner of the Department of Human Needs. Now he was running for governor. Everyone knew this already, but he hadn’t yet officially announced his candidacy. To announce you had to have cameras and bunting and a speech.
Hardaway had already started. Nick’s entire experience of politics was recapitulated in the progression from theme song to speech: He was excited by the fanfare but turned off by the rhetoric. “I am proud to stand before you today,” the man was saying. “I have a record of leadership and the experience to handle the challenges of the future. I have a positive vision.” His delivery was mediocre. Mostly he stared down at the podium, reading from a script, but every so often, so as to look into the cameras, he would abruptly jerk his head upward.
“. . . I come to you today with the experience, the enthusiasm, and the vision to lead our great state into the twenty-first century…”
Nick took his notebook out of his pocket but did not uncap his pen.
“. . . Some want to turn back the clock, raising taxes, undermining accountability, ignoring personal responsibility. I will work hard to defend our state against the forces of mediocrity that would take us backward instead of forward, and I will make no concessions to them . . .
“I believe the promise of America is yours to inherit if you have the capacity to dream and are willing to pursue those dreams!”
Nick watched Sonny Muñiz, ahead of him, taking notes. The driest man in the Capitol press corps, a widower, furrowed and whiskered, Muñiz explained the same things week after week to an audience who would never remember what a conference committee was or how the state had voted in the last presidential election, yet he never seemed to grow jaded, at least not in print, never seemed to tire of the long parade of Hardaways with their visions and dreams, the tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow of state elections. He had secured his place in the middle of it all, taking his notes, writing his columns, fixed like a boulder in that river of platitudes and pledges. Nick envied him that.
“A positive vision,” he heard Hardaway read again from his notes. “With the blessings provided us by our Creator, we are harvesting the seeds of a better tomorrow! The best is yet to come!”
The thing was, it didn’t seem to Nick that the best was yet to come. At one time he’d seen all this sort of political talk as a facade and imagined himself capable of puncturing it, of writing about what really went on behind all the posturing. But gradually he’d concluded that the people doing the posturing believed in their own postures. There was no simple underlying truth behind or beyond.
“I believe we must curb frivolous lawsuits. We must eliminate government waste. When we lower taxes on our working families, we create opportunities. We are one nation under God! Together we will forge a brighter future for our children!
“The test of leadership is not whether you are the loudest critic or the biggest cynic. The test of leadership is standing for something. As your governor, I will stand for something, and I will not yield!” An obligatory volley of cheering drowned out the next few words.
Behind Hardaway, Ms. Official Photograph smiled absently. She was thin and fastidious-looking, a conservative in appearance and presumably in philosophy as well, and no doubt she spoke in platitudes just like all the rest, but right now she didn’t look so sure of herself. Nick felt, if not quite sorry for her, glad at least that he didn’t have to sit up there behind Mark Hardaway. A name rose up out of the nowhere of his brain: Beverly Flintic. That was who she was, a state assemblywoman, newly elected to represent Waterloo’s northern suburbs.
The doors beckoned. He had a way of taking off early from these things, after convincing himself he’d done all he really needed to do. Next to the exit, the same woman who’d dispatched him to his present location was setting a cardboard box on a table. Transcripts of the speech, Nick guessed. If he picked one up…It had become so hot in the room, but there was no leaving. It was too crowded. Sweat trickled down his back while he stood there in the press corral, warm and drowsy, catching himself as he swayed involuntarily forward toward Muñiz. When the speech ended, the audience cheered on and on, and Hardaway held up his arm as though he had just stepped off an airplane and might wave, only he wasn’t waving. He was holding his arm straight up in a creepy führer way and letting the still photographers take their pictures.
All at once the corral began to move. Hardaway had stepped off the stage, and the reporters were migrating toward him. Nick bumbled along, conjoined bodily to the overweight editor of a politics newsletter. As they neared the candidate, the reporters thrust their tape recorders out, encircling Hardaway with a ring of outstretched arms, like a team huddling before the game. At the end of each arm was a small silver or black recorder that would capture the candidate’s additional words, his tidings of positivity but not the ruby tear of a shaving cut on his cheek, not the strange, early-eighties television hue of his tan, not the shadow of alarm in his eyes. Nick thought he should ask a question. He wanted to ask a question—he wanted to ask a smart question. Only he didn’t have a smart question for gubernatorial candidate Mark Hardaway. What he had was a dumb question, a basic, dumb question that baffled him whenever he went to one of these things. Why would anyone subject himself to this? To the cameras, the scrutiny, the press conferences, the thousands of handshakes, the permanent smiling—why? Why? Why?
A silence had fallen around the reporters’ circle. Hardaway was looking right at him. Nick hadn’t meant to ask his question out loud, but he’d done just that. The word had risen up through his throat and leaped out of his mouth.
The entire circle waited for him to finish the question. Hardaway looked at him, confused.
“Why…are you doing this?”
“Why am I doing what?”
“All of it.”
The candidate’s face grew somehow longer. He mashed his lips and glanced down. There was a pause. Then he ventured: “Why did I decide to run for governor?” Nick didn’t know how else to put it. He nodded. Hardaway repeated some lines he’d delivered earlier about leadership and the rewards of public service.
As soon as he was able, Nick slipped out of the pack, his cheeks still hot, swiped a speech transcript from one of the stacks near the door, and left. He jogged down half a flight of stairs and examined the transcript.
“My fellow taxpayers,” it began.
He folded the speech in half, then in half again, then once more, and dropped it in an ashtray.
He followed an exit sign to a rear door and shoved his right side up against it and tumbled out into an alley. A woman was standing a few feet away. It was Beverly Flintic, no longer looking so official with her jacket off and draped over her arm. She was smoking a cigarette. Alone, half in the shadow of the building, one pump heel planted slightly in front of the other, taking a modest puff and then considering the cigarette between her fingers as if it had been a while since her last one, she might have been a deer or a hare, some furtive animal, who, when startled by the opening door, quickly brought her hand down by her side and then stood motionless. Her stance was pigeon-toed. Unstable. She stared at him, caught, while smoke trailed off her thigh. Her lips parted, as though she wanted to smile or speak but could not.
“Did you drop that?”
He pointed at the ground next to her foot, to what looked to him like a book of matches.
“Oh!” she said.
“Here, let me.”
“No, no, no,” she said rapidly, dropping to a half squat before he could reach for the matches. “I got it.” She held her left arm high in the air to keep the jacket from touching the ground and grabbed the matchbook with thumb and finger of the other hand, which she was also using to hold the cigarette. She was off balance, and for a second or two Nick thought she would tip over sideways. Then she stood back up, awkwardly.
“Sorry,” she said. Her hair had fallen out of its place and down over her forehead.
Sorry for what? Nick couldn’t think of a response. He tried to return the way he’d come, but the door was locked. After tugging at the handle for a while, he took a step back and pointed solemnly at it. “Guess this is locked.”
“It looks that way,” she said.
He breezed by her, down the alley and into the street.
The rose-tinted dome of the state capitol hovered to the north of the downtown skyline like the airborne skirt of a faded party dress. The building’s style was Renaissance Revival, all cornices and pediments, joined to a stalwart frame that had held up, uncomplaining, under this tedium of having been born and born again. And again. The interior had been retrofitted for modern devices. Spittoons had been replaced by electrical outlets. Miles of computer cable had been routed beneath exact replicas of the original carpets. Delegations of algebra teachers and agents of the optometrists marched past joyless oil portraits of former governors, while schoolkids scratched and prodded at marble effigies of men whose status as heroes had lately come into question.
If the Waterloo air sometimes grew thick with a warm, fond, vague idealism, a dreamy groupthink that rarely funneled itself into definitive action but instead pooled around selected backyards and nonprofit offices, the Capitol operated to reduce that element. This was where good intentions ran out of gas or were deflated in midflight by the raised fist of Lady Freedom, an unattractive stone woman who’d been installed on top of the dome during the first World War. Occasionally some draft of principle blew through an open window, but for the most part the interior was shielded from the higher winds, buffered by the ranks of silver-tongued (and some not-so-silver-tongued) emissaries who circled the building and used up all the oxygen nattering about job creation and dollar amounts.
A slow evening, quiet under the dome. Few footsteps sounded on the terrazzo; few office halogens illuminated the frosted glass of members’ doors. The assembly and its entourage had moved on to cocktail receptions, to restaurants. But the lights still blazed in one basement office, where a recently elected assemblywoman from the nearby Waterloo suburbs had been mounting a valiant but futile effort to grasp the logical underpinning of state water rules—futile because there had never been any such underpinning. And in the hallway outside stood an emissary, not known for diligence yet somehow reliably informed of comings and goings, of votes and nonvotes, of who was screwing whom, and in particular of the fact that he would find Beverly Flintic in her office this evening, a fact that had led him to postpone the day’s first vodka sour. Kenneth “Bones” Lasseter waited outside her door, tucking in his shirt, disgorging his nicotine gum, like a veteran performer carrying out his preshow rituals. A little dance step into the reception area, a compadre smile, the curtain rises . . . For years he’d kept a roof over his head just by winning people over. He had that knack.
He found her alone in her back office, at her desk, a fat bound volume of civil code open in front of her. She was, he saw, one of the grinds, who treated this place like college, trying for their A’s in Appropriations and Agriculture and Administrative Affairs. Wasted effort. Of course some background knowledge didn’t hurt, but expertise went only so far when you were thigh-deep in a mud bog. And it wasn’t worth shit if you lost the next election.
Beverly stood up. From the other side of her desk he proffered his card. She scanned it and at the same time extended her slender hand, as if for him to examine in turn.
“Just Beverly is fine.”
“Just Ken Lasseter. Or you can call me Bones. Pardon the intrusion—”
“I’m sorry, but I’m trying to catch up on a few things,” she said, dropping the card on her desk. “If you could come back tomorrow, I’d appreciate it. I’m not really even here.” She indicated, as evidence, her pale yellow sweatshirt, something worn in the privacy of her office during times of heavy air-conditioning. Her white shirt collar hung neatly over the neckline. She was decent-looking, Bones thought, although it was a shame that so many of these women got rid of their hair, of all but a sprayed-stiff little pot cozy. He’d heard some rumors about Beverly Flintic, but in any given year it seemed that more than half the members had been linked to one or another coarse rumor. She had espied lint on the sweatshirt; she picked it off and—he was struck by this—turned to flick the lint into a trash can, not onto the floor.
“I apologize for barging in and I promise no business. I saw you had your light on is all. I thought I’d drop in and introduce myself.” His breathing was pronounced, and his words had the sound of having been pushed through a long, dank tunnel before arriving out in the open.
“Oh. Thanks.” She recognized that she’d been brusque. She was often brusque, unintentionally. “Hello.”
“So,” he said, and sat down on the corner of her desk. “Your first session. Are you getting the hang of things?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t collapsed yet.”
“To you I may look like some old boy just coming out of the woods, but I’ve been on this beat for longer than I care to think about. If you ever need anything, that’s my cell phone number right there. The damn thing’s always on. Call me whenever.”
“I appreciate that.”
“You want to know what anyone around here is all about, just ask.”
“All right.” With her right thumb and forefinger she twisted her wedding band in a circle. “How about you? What are you all about?”
“Moi?” He grinned expertly. “Oh, naturally I just want the best for the people of our fair state and my clients in particular.”
“You scratch where it itches.” His phone rang. “See what I mean? Always on,” he said. “I am that a-hole in the movie theater.” As he fished the phone out of his shirt pocket, a chewing gum wrapper poked out along with it, then fell to her desk, which she noticed and he did not.
“My wife,” he said. “Excuse me.” He strolled out to the reception area. Beverly could still hear him: “You’re kidding . . . the bastard . . .” She checked her watch. It was ten after six. She felt it was rude for a stranger to drop by her office at ten after six. She reached for the gum wrapper and threw it away.
When Bones returned, he seemed dazed. “A great man has left us,” he announced. “A good man, anyway. You ever meet Will Sabert?” She shook her head. “He was in Congress. From here. Big heart, big brain, not much sense . . . That mold got broke a long time ago. And he’s gone and died, the old f—.”
“He had it coming.”
“I do remember him.”
“You wouldn’t have voted for him.”
“No,” he said contemplatively, as if this were a subject he’d been trying to get to the bottom of for a long time. Then he stood straight and held out his hand. “I barged in, I’m barging out. Forgive me.”
“Nice meeting you,” said Beverly, though “nice” wasn’t quite the word for it.
After the better part of a year in office, the protocols of the place still eluded her; the longer she was here the more coded everything seemed. There was a surface layer of information, the loose soil and carrot tops they fed to the reporters, and a second layer of wormier stuff you became privy to according to your position, and then beneath that were more strata and gopher holes and decommissioned sewers full of trivia, histories, grudges, petty paybacks she didn’t know how deep. Much as she tried to learn, there was never enough time. She wondered what else Ken Lasseter had meant to say before the phone interrupted him. She wondered whether the phone call had really been from his wife, whether this man Will Sabert had really died. She never used to be a suspicious person.