Overnight, the main stories, written in bold print, read, * DIRTY POLITICS* or "MUD SLINGING BEGINS" and the Post with "Where is Chad Lant?"
"Branigan is condemning the slander attempt, Bryce," Sarah says, walking into the office and grabbing a doughnut as she sat down.
"What did you expect? Yeah, it was me, oops!" I smirk out.
"Just get your friends to do some digging on Mr. Lant. There is a connection there somewhere; we just have to find it, and when we do, Claudia owes me a favour," I add, and she grabs a second sugary snack and leaves.
"Mrs. Mills?" I enquire.
"Thursday, She's still out of town, Bryce," She replies.
"As soon as possible, Sarah," I add and she closes the door.
Later that same day…
I am sitting with Dan and Luis, going over my responses for this evening's debate.
"So, the deficit is the main topic, Senator, and we are the party in power. We will have to defend the present occupant of the White House," Dan informs me, and I know I need to have a conversation with President Cooper before the debate with Branigan.
"Luis, can you check with the chief to see if I can have five minutes this afternoon?" I inform, not ask.
"I'll call Bob as soon as we are done," he replies.
Later that afternoon, I was talking to Senator Logan. We were not alone. Sarah was sitting in, as we talked through some strategy for the upcoming debate.
"So, what did his Lord and master say?" Danny asked.
"He's a little busy with the Russian Ambassador to see me," I replied.
"Asshole," Sarah responded.
"Miss Clarke" I smirked, as I had an idea that fire and brimstone Cooper would avoid me. He is a well-known, closeted homophobe; so, yeah, asshole was right.
"I'm seeing Bob a little later," I add, talking about Andrew Cooper's chief of staff.
"Guys, all I want to know is if there is anything I need to be made aware of that could bite me in the ass. Branigan has a good network, and he finds stuff out; so forewarned and all that… understand?" I add.
"Okay, the topic, as we know, is the deficit. Bryce, do not be pulled into a debate on Medicare or inner-city welfare funding. How much is spent on the military is a good avenue; terrorism is still a factor, and some older voters still remember 9-11 very vividly," added Sarah.
"Okay, this debate is a good one for me. My record in New York stands me in good stead; some of my budget recommendations are still in place, and working," I add.
"Good. Stick to what you know, don't speculate," she replies.
Soon, we were interrupted…
"Senator, there is a Mrs. Mills on line 2 for you. She said you wanted to talk to her," Brian Tucker informed me.
"Erm yeah, Brian… and why are you answering my calls?" I ask, a little bewildered, wondering where my secretary has vanished to.
"Call of nature" Brian replies. "Okay. Put it through," I reply, and knew I would address that issue a little later on in the day.
"Bryce Noda," I start, and wait for a reply.
"Hello, Senator, I understand you would like to talk to me about James Branigan," she responded.
"If you can just fill in some blanks for me, I would appreciate it," I replied.
"Yes, of course, anything I can do to derail that self-serving piece of," she cut herself off. "Sorry Mr. Noda, it's just, he makes my blood boil," she adds.
"I understand. Can we meet somewhere and discuss this further?" I ask.
"Erm, well, I would rather you come to me, Mr. Noda. It's just… it's just, I think he is having me followed. He knows I know what happened with the investigation into his company… and well, look, I know I am probably being paranoid… but can you come to me?" she replies, somewhat panicked.
"Sure… when and where?" I ask
"I am in Missouri, my sisters place… Sarah, your assistant, has the address," she adds.
"Well, yeah okay… tomorrow too soon?" I ask.
"No. The sooner the better," she replies.
"Okay, Mrs. Mills… until tomorrow," I reply, and end the call.
"Well, we will see what the Secret Service says about that call," I say to Danny and Sarah.
"Sarah, my calls, replace the secretary; and make sure that when you do, that the replacement is trained to know that interns do not answer my private office line," I say with no malice, but Christ, I am running for leader of the free world - and an office boy, whose father guards me, answers a call because she needed a toilet break… no… no… NO!
"Yeah, sure, sack her or move her?" Sarah replies.
"Sarah… judgment call, you decide," I reply. I knew that Sarah knew her, so she would just be moved to another part of the campaign. But if I win, bye bye; or perhaps I am being harsh. I need to think about that when I have to.
"Sarah, ask Dan to come back in, will you?" I say, and she leaves my office.
A couple of minutes later, Dan comes in and I point to a seat.
"Dan, tomorrow I need to be somewhere I do not need the secret service to know about. Can you help?" I ask. I know Dan can help with a little covert cover.
"Bryce, you are running for President. If you go missing, there will be a manhunt," Dan points out, and I know he's right.
"Hang on," I say, and ask Sarah over the intercom to get Mrs. Mill's back on the phone, and she did. I had arranged with Mrs. Mills for her to go to a local hotel and book into it tonight, and Dan would pick up the bill. "Take your sister, have a night on the town, divert any suspicion," I added, and soon we had a plan.
"Sarah, arrange an on air interview in the city she is in, will you? I will give the impression this is part of my campaign," I add, and was quite happy with my little subterfuge.
We soon got back to the matter at hand; the debate. My staff threw all sorts of questions about the economy, the deficit, and anything else Branigan can slip in under the cover. I had learned by now he can play dirty and get the occasional dig in.
An hour later, I was walking the hallowed halls of the west wing, heading for Bob's office, hoping he can at least give me some sort of heads up. Has Branigan got the rush on some legislation that I am unaware of?
"Senator, come in," Bob says, and points to a chair.
"Bob, Bryce, please," I insist.
"Drink?" he asks me. Obviously, my being a tee-totaler is not hot gossip around this place.
"Coffee, please," I reply, being civil.
"Denise, coffee, and water for me, please," he speaks into his intercom. Water, hmm, he is getting over his drinking problem; not such a secret on the hill.
"Bob, is there anything Branigan can come at me with tonight? Anything regarding the deficit, the budget, anything?" I ask, and look for a little help.
"Bryce, can I be honest? The big guy is not impressed with the Parties selection. I do not, however, share his views," he adds, and I give a wry smile.
"Branigan and he used to serve on the state legislature, at the same time. I will not say they are friends by any stretch; but they share the same political philosophy, and more than that, they share the same church," he adds, not telling me much, but telling me enough. Cooper could be playing for the opposition. No proof, just a nod from his chief of staff, a good republican.
"And, just a word about his availability, he should talk to you, but he is busy; so his views regarding your sexuality should not be taken harshly, Bryce. Well, not until you hear it from him, anyway; but he will tow the party line," Bob adds. I shake his hand, and he hands me an envelope before I leave. I place it in my inside pocket.
"Thank you, Bob, always a pleasure," I say, and take my leave. I arrive back at my office about ten minutes after leaving the White House.
I open the envelope, and it is a proposal for budget cuts for the armed services and to Medicare. "Fuck, Coop, just have me paraded naked with a dildo sticking out my ass, you piece of shit," I angrily state, at the obvious plan to make me so unpopular that Branigan will walk this election. Cooper's plan; and Branigan would reverse the plan. "Fuck!!" I yell
Sarah runs in, wondering what the hell is going on.
"Look at this shit," I am seething, and she looks at the information that I had acquired.
"Is this for real? What is Cooper playing at? He knows Congress would never approve it; and, well, the Senate would just laugh at a lame duck President," she berates.
"Yes, I know that, and so does he. He is trying to make it look like we have lost the plot, and we cannot be trusted with another term; time for a Democrat," I reply, looking her dead in the eye, and she could see I meant every word.
"Ask Mike Longo to come and see me, Sarah, as soon as possible, please. I need some advice on this, and he can give it to me," I ask, and she leaves.
I was sitting in my office, going over the finishing notes to help with the debate, when Mike Longo knocked on my door.
"Come in, Mike, take a seat," I say, and he does so.
"What's up, my boy?" he replies, and I hand him the letter that Bob had given me earlier. "What do you think?" I say, taking my seat.
"He's an arrogant ass," he responds.
"Yeah, tell me something we don't know," I reply.
"This has leaked?" he asks.
"No, not that I am aware of; but I would bet my last dollar Branigan has a copy," I respond.
"Yeah, I would bet on that fact, they served on…" I cut him off.
"Yeah, I found that out earlier," I respond
"Same church, as well. Well, not the same building, but same faith, Methodist," He adds
"So, what do you suggest I do?" I ask
"Well, if you want to be bold and take the wind out of his sails, you mention it first. It is a measure under consideration, but you oppose any cuts in the mentioned funding; and see what the asshole comes back with, if he hasn't swallowed his tongue," Mike replies with a smile. It was an idea I was considering, anyway.
"He will mention overseas aid," Mike added.
"Yeah, and on that score we agree. We should get our own funding in order before we back up anyone else's economy," I reply.
"Cooper said that last year, anyway, and I said that when I first ran for Congress; and again when I became a senator, so he cannot hurt me too bad on that issue," I reply.
We talked for a little under an hour, and I felt a little more at ease after Mike left. The cell that Danny had given me rang, and I answered.
"Hey!" I say, as I answered.
"You sound happier than you were when I left earlier," he said, and I could detect a smile in his voice.
"Mike Longo just left. Christ, he is an amazing man. Why the fuck he never ran baffles me," I respond.
"Party politics. The Bush's had a monopoly on selection, and he was overlooked time and time again," Danny replied
"Surprise, but what can I do for you, Mr. Logan," I smirk.
"Just rang to wish you luck. Take the bastard down, Bryce," he responds, and a knock at my door and I end the call.
"Come in," I shout.
"Oh, Claudia, come in. Please take a seat," I say, and the previous night's host sat down.
"Senator, I came to apologize in person," she said, with a genuine look of remorse on her face.
"Claudia, you did me a great service with the loaded questions I asked you to present; so, apologies are not necessary," I respond, shaking her hand.
"My researchers have come up with a little bit of information that could help you with this Chad Lant," she says with a wry little smile.
"Oh? Go on," I respond.
"Do you remember a guy called Mark Martin?" she asked.
"Martin, erm, Congressman Mark Martin?" I ask
"The very same," she responds.
"What about him?" I ask.
"Chad Lant is his stepbrother," she responds.
"Are you serious?" I reply, stunned at that bit of information. Mark Martin is a Republican, and works alongside a senior White House aide. Fuck! Is Cooper behind this whole attempt at slander? Christ, I knew I had a fight, but from how many sides am I fighting?
I finished the conversation with Claudia, and thanked her for her help, and she left my office. I informed Dan and Sarah of the new developments, and then packed up and headed out for the TV studio, and another part of the fight I was now more than ever determined to win.
To be continued...
Hope you like the intrigue and deception of the political world, and we will see how Bryce handles his first face to face confrontation with James Branigan. Comments as usual at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @DavidSpowart