The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 8

Greer Hamilton

After the telecom vote and my confrontation with the Senator, I decided to go back to the office.   It was late, the sun had already set, but I had no other plans.  I figured I should eat but I had no desire to sit in a restaurant.  My mind kept replaying the interaction with Senator Evans.  I decided it was best not to be in public as I struggled to make sense of it all.  I stopped at a deli, ordered a sandwich and took it back to the office for what I knew would be a late night.  I wanted to get a jumpstart on the research for my new project, learning what I could about Briarwood Technical so I could be ready for my next confrontation with Senator Evans.

The office building was quiet, no hustle or bustle in the lobby.  I gave a nod to the security guard on duty in the lobby and made my way to the elevator bank.  As the doors slid open on our floor, it was surreal.  It wasn’t normal for me to come in at night.  I’d been here late before, but this was the first time I’d willingly walked in after hours.  The floor was illuminated only by the random emergency lights that were kept on.  The floor was deserted.  Almost the entire office was next door at our favorite bar for cheap margaritas.

I sent a text to Joanie to let her know I was working late.  She confirmed she was at the bar and even offered to come back to the office to help me if I needed it.  I told her that since she’d already been drinking she should stay and enjoy herself.  Honestly, I think I wanted the quiet.  I opened my sandwich wrapper and fired up my laptop.

While I wanted to focus on Briarwood, my thoughts kept wandering back to Senator Evans and what he said to me. “The apology was my idea.”  It also doesn’t escape my mind that he called me, Greer.  In all of my confrontations with him in the past I’ve always just been Hamilton.  I’m sure he’s had some other names for me but he’s been polite enough not to repeat them in front of me.  I know I’ve had other names for him.  I don’t know what it is about him, but he gets me worked up.

Fine, I know what it is.  He’s handsome, powerful, and has an ego!  Actually, I’m not so sure about the third thing.  I’ve often wondered what he’s like away from the Hill.  Is the angry and combative man I deal with the real Senator or the one for show?  And why am I even worried about it?  He thinks I’m beneath him and for that reason alone I should not give him a second thought.  But the way his eyes seem to look through me tonight gives me pause.  He sounded sincere when he apologized.

I was so lost in my thoughts over the Senator that I practically crawled out of my skin when my phone vibrated across my desk.  Once my heart began beating again and I composed myself, I picked it up.  I have a predisposition to be a little skittish and when you add in a dark office, where it’s quiet, and I’m engrossed in my own thoughts – the slightest thing will set me off.  I had an incoming text from an old friend asking if I had a few minutes to chat.  When I responded that I did, the phone rang immediately.

“Hey, Greer, how are you?” The mellow voice of my best friend from childhood came through the line.  “It’s been so long since we talked.”

Claudia Hightower grew up down the block from me.  We met on our first day of kindergarten and became inseparable.  We would play for hours in the park, had sleepovers, and obsessed over boys.  Everyone knew if you saw me, Claudia was close behind and vice versa.  So much so, we even went to college together.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think the two of us were twins.

Claudia studied public relations and marketing while I studied economics and started my path toward a legal career.  We separated when I went to law school and she took a job with a big-time PR firm.  Her career was on a fast track from the word go.  With my studying and her career, we hardly saw one another.  Suddenly I was taking the bar exam and moving to DC and she was the ‘it girl’ in the PR world.  We did keep a regular date to talk on the phone.  She would tell me the celebrities she met and I would get jealous.  Then she would tell me which ones were not nearly as nice as she had hoped and my jealousy would fade.

However, over the last year, those phone calls had become less frequent.   The calls came only every couple of weeks and, in fact, the last time I actually talked to Claudia was almost a month ago.  “I know, I’m sorry for being a horrible friend.  Things are just crazy in DC.  So tell me, what is  new and exciting in your world?”

“No need to apologize, we’ve both been busy.  But good news, I’m coming to DC tomorrow for a meeting and I was hoping we could see each other while I’m there.”

“What?  That’s fantastic!” I flipped through my calendar, “I’m free tomorrow, you want to meet for dinner?”

There was a long silence, “Actually, the meeting I have is a dinner meeting.  I’m getting in early and I was hoping we could do lunch.”

“Oh, sure, I can do that.”  I stared at my calendar to make sure I didn’t have any meetings that would cause a conflict.  If so, I’d just reschedule them, I’d rather see Claudia.  “What time do you want to meet?”

“How about 11:30?  I get in early but I have a few meetings in the morning.”

“Works for me, I’ll make a reservation and text you the location.”

“I’m looking forward to it, Greer.  I’ve missed you.”

We said our goodbyes, not wanting to talk for long on the phone and burn up conversation topics for the next day.  I do a quick search for a lunch location and make online reservations.  I text Claudia the details and start to get excited about seeing her.  While Joanie is a great friend and roommate, I’m yearning to have my best friend for dedicated conversation.  I need to talk to someone who I can trust and is not involved in the political circus.  She might be able to give me the fresh perspective I need on what’s been going on lately and how I can work through it.

~ * ~

We are meeting at Georgia Browns, a restaurant in DuPont Circle.  It’s only a few blocks from the Rothschild and Miller office so it is an easy walk for me.  I didn’t want to drive and have to worry about parking.  That is the worst part about living in DC.  I can deal with traffic and politics, but the parking situation is awful.  Street parking is hard to come by and feeding the meters are expensive.  And the costs for parking structures and lots are expensive if you can even find a vacancy.  I do drive into work, but I’ve got a parking spot as part of my compensation package.  When I have to go to meetings at the Senate Office Building, I do a rideshare or take the Metro.

I’m lucky that for the walk to the restaurant it’s not raining, snowing, or freezing cold.  There’s a chill in the air, but that doesn’t bother me.  In fact, this is an opportunity for me to have some exercise and walk off the meal I’m about to devour.  As I left the office, I told Joanie I wouldn’t be back.  I elected to make it a half-day so I wouldn’t have to be rushed to return.  I deserve the break.

As I enter the building, I see that Claudia has been seated in one of the half-moon booths in the bar area.  She’s seated so that she is facing the entrance and would be able to catch my attention when she walks in.  The booths are comfortable and have high backs which provide some privacy.  As I make my way towards her, I see several people that I recognize:   Congressmen/women, staffers, and reporters.  I take a few minutes to stop and say hello to those who wave me over.  You never know when I might need the help of some of these folks so I cannot afford to dismiss them.

As I approach the table, Claudia stands from the booth and quickly pulls me into a warm embrace.  “Oh my gosh, you look fantastic, Greer!”  She puts her hands on my shoulders and pushes me away slightly so she can get a better look.  “Wow, I think it’s safe to say DC has been treating you well.  It’s been two years since I last saw you and you look amazing girlfriend.”

I let out a laugh and a slight huff, “Thanks, but this is what too much work with no time to eat looks like.  Besides, you’re one to talk, Manhattan is serving you well.”

We took our seats in the booth and the waiter appeared immediately to pour two glasses of water and take our drink order.  Claudia took command, as usual, and ordered a bottle of wine saying we deserved it.  I couldn’t disagree with her.

I wasn’t kidding, Claudia looked amazing.  She was always a beautiful girl but the confidence in her job and the success she had achieved fit her well.  She had a grace and style about her that I could only wish to have.  “How are things in New York and what in the world are you doing in my town?” I gave her a wink as I reached for my glass of water.

“Things are good.  I stay busy because someone always needs a little help with the media.  Actually, that’s what has me here in DC.”

“Oh shocking, someone in DC needs public relations?” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

“No, not like that!  I was asked to do a media profile and I’m here tonight to present it.  I’m telling you if this goes the way I anticipate then I’ll net a new client.  This could be huge for me, Greer.”

Now she had my curiosity piqued.  “Huge?  So can you give me the details?”

“I wish I could.  I’ve been sworn to secrecy on this one, even had to sign a non-disclosure agreement on it.  I mean, if it’s in DC you can guarantee it has to do with a politician.  I had to dig into the background and look for skeletons that could be a public relations issue down the road,” her voice began to drift off.

I knew what this meant and she was right, for her it could be huge.  I reached across the table and touched her arm and lowered my voice to a harsh whisper, “Oh my God, you’re vetting a potential presidential candidate, aren’t you?  Republican or Democrat?”  My eyes were wide with anticipation over her response.

Claudia started to laugh, “I can neither confirm nor deny anything you just said.”  She gave me a wink as she finished her answer and I knew I was on the right track.  “I can’t give you specifics but my meeting tonight is to discuss my findings along with those of a few others.”

“How long are you in town for?”

“It all depends on how things go tonight.  I don’t know this person, just what I found on paper.  I’m just not sure how they will react to what is being presented.  I’m going to go get a hotel room after lunch to be safe.”

“That is so exciting.  I have to walk that fine line between the parties and can’t get political.  Heck, I can’t even give my own opinion on the legislation I’m working.”  There were times I wish I could be active in my own causes and volunteer for things that wouldn’t be politicized or held against me later.  Instead, I have to throw myself into the bill I am trying to pass and make sure that everyone believes my stand.  I know the fact that I don’t always believe in what I’m doing makes me a horrible person.  But I don’t get to pick what causes I serve.  I don’t have enough political clout or influence to be able to do that.  Right now I’m a hired gun, which is why so many Senators and Congressional members think we are scum.

Our waiter returned to our table with the bottle of wine.  He deftly opened it and poured each of us a glass before stepping away.  He could tell we weren’t ready to order so he didn’t even bother to ask.  Bless him for being observant.  Claudia raised her glass and made a toast to our friendship.  We each topped off our glass following the toast, at this rate, we might empty the bottle before we have a chance to order food.

As Claudia sipped her wine, I noticed she was eyeing me carefully.  She sat her glass down then said something that made my heart stop.  “I ran into your parents the other night at the theater.  They said they were going on vacation to Italy, I think.”  I could tell she was watching for my reaction and was disappointed when I didn’t immediately fly off the handle.

Instead, I let her words linger.  I was not particularly close with my parents.  I spoke to them every other week just to make sure they are alive, but I don’t visit them.  In fact, I routinely come up with every excuse imaginable to keep me from going to visit them.  To be fair, they aren’t making an effort to visit me either.  I’ve invited them numerous times and receive excuse after excuse as to why a visit to DC just isn’t possible at the moment.  No, when it comes to their vacations and time away from the city, they prefer to visit Europe or take a cruise.

“Actually, they’re going to France first and then onto Italy.”

“Did they tell you that?”  Claudia knew that my relationship was strained so if they were giving me details of a vacation it was big news.

I scoffed at her remark and took a sip of my wine.  “No, my brother did.  Noah called this morning to congratulate me on the telecom bill passing and he mentioned it.  I talked to mom last weekend and it was never mentioned, so I don’t think Noah was supposed to tell me.”  I should probably be ashamed that my relationship with them is not what it should be.  However, I can’t dwell on something that depresses me and takes up too much energy to think about.

Growing up the only daughter, and third child, of Franklin and Rachael Hamilton had been idyllic.  My parents doted on me and let me try to find my own path.  My parents were both lawyers and always hoped that all three of their children would follow in their footsteps.  They didn’t push any of us, just offered their advice and hoped we would move on to the legal field.  My oldest brother, Elliott, had decided early on that he wanted to be in the military.  While my parents were not thrilled with it, they didn’t do anything to stop him.

Elliott was six years older my senior and I worshiped him.  I followed him around and wanted to do everything he did.  When he joined the Marines, my heart sank.  He was going to ship off to boot camp and then travel the world and I wouldn’t have him around as much.  It broke my heart.  He promised my parents he would pursue the law when his days as a Marine were over.  Unfortunately, when I was a junior in high school, Elliott was killed in action and those dreams were dashed.  My parents became more focused on my brother Noah and me,  pushing us to do what they wanted and not offering us a chance to choose.  Their argument was that they let Elliott choose and now he was dead.

My parents were happy that I elected to go to Columbia, their alma mater, the school Noah thumbed his nose at.  Unlike Elliott, I willingly decided to go into the legal profession.  I loved to argue and excelled in debate, it was a clear career path.  However, their pride turned to disappointment when they realized my path would lead to corporate law.  When I took an internship at a large Manhattan firm in their mergers and acquisitions department, I thought my mother would have a heart attack.

Rachael Hamilton ran the Brooklyn Legal Aid office and had been providing legal services to the poor and disadvantaged for years.  She was, in the kindest terms possible, a far leaning liberal.  She was disappointed that I was more interested in corporate ladders and money grubbing than I was at focusing on giving back to the people in my community.  She forgot that we lived on the Upper East side and not in Brooklyn.  We were far from disadvantaged although we were not millionaires, either.

Franklin Hamilton was a defense attorney that had been involved with a few notorious cases over the years.  He only had one policy that he stuck to throughout his career.  He would not touch a mob-related case, but that didn’t stop them from trying to hire him.  My father quit his large law firm and opened his own practice when Noah finished law school.  He wanted to run a family law firm, it had been his dream for years.  He was always with the anticipation that his three kids would join him, but he would at least settle for two.

When I turned my sights on moving to DC and taking a position with Rothschild and Miller, the divide in my family deepened.  My parents were hurt that I did not want to join my father’s firm.  Noah was angry that I was getting to make a decision on my own while he felt like he had to carry the mantle for him and Elliott.  The day before my move to DC, my parents went on a cruise.  Noah wasn’t enthusiastic about it but he at least helped me pack my car and saw me off at the curb.  No one came with me to help me get settled.

I broke the news to my parents in one of our semi-regular phone calls that I was being moved from corporate litigation.  When my mother realized I was now going to be a lobbyist, she hung up on me.  Luckily my parents were on a conference call and my father was still on the line.  He expressed his disappointment that I was selling my soul for politics.  He said my mother was just concerned that I was becoming one of those people who would continually help the government do what they could to hurt the poor and underprivileged.

My relationship with Noah has gotten better at least.  He isn’t as bitter as he once was and he admitted part of his problem is jealousy.  He wishes he could do what he wants but feels like it just isn’t an option.  He hates that my parents treat me the way they do, and he tries to mediate, but he is stuck in the middle.

“I’m sorry, Greer.  Have they still never visited you?  What about Noah?”

“No, they’ve never been here.  And Noah, I think my father has probably threatened him and told him not to come down here.” I say it with a laugh in the hopes of hiding the pain.  The part about my father is a joke.  However, part of me wonders if I might be spot on in my assessment.  “Hey, look at the bright side.  If they don’t come to visit, then I don’t have to pretend to love my job.”

Claudia raises her napkin to keep from spitting out her wine.  As she choked it back she began to cough incessantly.  “Sorry, I think that went down the wrong pipe,” she said as she reached for her water glass.  “Well, you’ve answered my next question regarding how your life as a lobbyist is progressing.”

“It is not, and never will be my dream job.  But to quote the Stones, you can’t always get what you want.”

 

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