Lunch with Claudia was comfortable. However, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one around us was listening to our conversation. It would be a nightmare if we were overheard and details were leaked. Not that I figured she had given me anything juicy on her candidate, but I didn’t want to slip and say something that could be repeated. Especially since I knew this conversation was on a collision course with my job and how unhappy I was.
“So things aren’t as great as you want your parents to believe?”
“No. I know if I’m ever honest with my parents about how things are or what my concerns are, they will just give me the speech as to why I shouldn’t have moved to DC.” I took a sip of my wine and took a deep breath as I let that declaration sink into my own head.
“Is there any chance ol’ what’s his name will move you back to litigation?” I had to snicker because I know that Claudia knows Preston’s name. We used to laugh over how pretentious the name Preston Xavier Miller sounded. Of course, it also sounds like money, which is spot on.
I shook my head to answer her question. “It’ll never happen. I think I’ll be stuck on the lobbying side for the foreseeable future.” I shouldn’t unload on her, but I need to vent to someone. “I thought he’d throw me over there and it would be short-lived because he would see I was better at litigation. But Preston ignored me after assigning to me to lobbying until two weeks ago. That’s when everything turned on its head.”
Claudia eyed me carefully. She was watching my body language to see if I was telling the truth, I knew her tricks. “What happened two weeks ago?”
“He gave me a big deal to work. It’s bigger than anything I’ve ever worked before, Claudia.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, you were named one of the most influential lobbyists, right? Why wouldn’t he want to trust you with a big deal?”
“Are you kidding? Everything I’ve worked on up this point has been fluff legislation, no real substance or impact. The idea of me having influence is a joke. I think he probably paid to get me on that list so it would serve his own purpose.”
“Ok, assuming you’re right, what would his purpose be?”
“I’m not entirely sure. Preston called me into the office and said I was doing a great job. So great, in fact, that he wanted me to work on the renewal of the Briarwood Technical deal.” Claudia’s eyes went wide with surprise. “Close your mouth, Claud, you’re going to catch flies with it hanging open like that.”
She closed her mouth and tried to formulate the appropriate response. As her brain churned, the waiter appeared to take our lunch order. I was so thankful that he had such impeccable timing and I made a mental note to give him a good tip just for that reason alone. We discussed several menu options and then ordered. I actually requested an ice tea and decided to ease up on the wine. If I drank much more, I’d get drunk, and things could go seriously downhill from there.
When our waiter walked off, Claudia crossed her arms and leaned forward on the table. “Alright, the deal is huge, you’re right. Did you ever think that maybe Preston has goals for you? Maybe wants to give you a promotion and before he does that he needs to know you can handle a case the size of Briarwood?”
I had to admit that I liked where her mind was going. However, I didn’t see that as being the case. “I’m so low on the totem pole there is no way he is thinking of a promotion. He has two of the biggest guns in DC on his staff so I don’t know why he is focusing on me.” Now it was my turn to lean forward on the table. “Do you ever get the feeling that things aren’t what they seem to be, but you just can’t put your finger on what it is? That’s me right now. I think this is all fishy, but I don’t know why I feel that way.”
“Greer, if you’re unhappy with where your career is right now, move on. With your experience and you could easily get a job at a firm in Chicago or New York. Hell, go west, head to Los Angeles.”
“I’ve considered it, but that would mean I have to start at the bottom again. I’m not sure I’m willing to do that.” I leaned back against the booth and reached for my glass of water. “I’ve put so much time in here that I’ll feel like it was a waste to quit and move on.”
“You could always go work for your dad. Maybe he’d finally be willing to expand the family firm into corporate work.”
I had to keep from busting out laughing. “I think if he took me in it would mean hell froze over.”
Claudia shook her head. “I’m trying to help you and you keep shutting me down. If we’ve established you hate your job and don’t want to quit, why are you continuing down this path?”
That was the million-dollar question and I didn’t have a legitimate answer for it. I knew that if I tried to spin something, Claudia would see right through it. After all, I’d be stepping into her territory and believe me, I’m not nearly as skilled as she is. I fiddled with the napkin on the table and tried to stall for time. Luckily the waiter and his impeccable timing showed up.
He placed our food in front of us and picked at my blackened catfish caesar salad. I finally blew out a breath and sat my fork down. “No matter how I say this it won’t paint me in a very good light but here I go. I’m terrified of the idea of starting over. I haven’t been in a courtroom in two years, I’m afraid I’ve lost my touch. Hell, I haven’t even taken a deposition. What if I’m not capable of doing it and I fail miserably?”
Claudia flung herself back against the booth and put her fork down. She stared at me with utter astonishment. “I’m serious, Claudia. It is fear that is keeping me here right now. Not only of failing if I moved on but of Preston trying to ruin my reputation if I stayed in the city and went to another firm. He scares me a little. This is the first time I’m actually admitting that to anyone.”
The expression on Claudia’s face had changed to one of concern. “Greer, has he done something to you? You’d tell me if he had, right?”
I shook my head. “He hasn’t done what your mind is thinking. Heavens no, and yes, I would tell you if he had. I’m referring more to the way he talks to me. His tone of voice and the idea that he’s put me on a defense contract that could have significant implications. I get this feeling like he’s setting me up.”
“Why would he set up a member of his own team on a contract that he’s being paid to get passed? It makes no sense.”
I nodded in agreement. “I know, I sound deranged. But he has put me in a position to have to work with the Senate Intelligence Committee to get this passed. I don’t necessarily get along with a member of the committee.”
“We all have to work with people we don’t like. That doesn’t mean Preston is setting you up or giving you a reason to be scared of him.” I could tell I had her baffled.
“It’s more than that. The Senator and I have been verbally sparring with one another for some time. At the telecom event before the vote, we had an altercation. It was stupid, he was rude to me and I was rude back. I didn’t know that Preston was there and had witnessed it.” I reached for my tea this time and took a slow drink. “At the end of the evening, Preston called the Senator’s Chief of Staff and gave him a tongue lashing over the way I was treated.” I slowly set my glass back on the table and made eye contact with Claudia. “I found out about it after the fact and I was embarrassed. I’m sure the Senator thinks I ran home to my boss and complained about him and then asked for him to defend my honor.”
“Please tell me you’re kidding? That’s mildly creepy for him to watch you and then defend you like that. I mean if he had talked to you about it that’s one thing. I see now why you say there’s something weird going on.” Claudia leaned forward and lowered her voice. “So, how did the Senator react?”
“He apologized to me. After the telecom vote, which he voted against, he saw me in the hallway and told me he was sorry for not acting like a proper gentleman.”
“Wow, and you think he only apologized because Preston called him?”
“Originally I did. However, I asked him if he was doing this on his own or because Preston called him. He said it was his idea. I’m telling you, I was so blown away by his statement that I couldn’t admit to him that I hadn’t said anything to Preston.”
I had this feeling that as I said all of this out loud, Claudia would think I’m insane. To say I’m at my job only because I’m too scared to fail was one thing. To tell her I’m afraid of my boss is another. But then to tell her about my combative relationship with a Senator, she has to think I’m totally nuts.
I picked up my fork and started to pick at and eat my salad. Claudia then picked up her fork and the two of us ate in companionable silence for several minutes. I didn’t know what else to say to her. Finally, Claudia sat her fork down and wiped her mouth with her napkin. She pushed her plate away from her and rested her elbows on the table. She looked as if she meant business when she began to speak.
“Greer, who is the Senator that you’ve had your run in with?”
I lowered my head. I didn’t want to go down this path, but I realized I opened the door. I let out a sigh, put my own fork down and brought my napkin to my mouth. I finally raised my head and made eye contact with Claudia before I said, “Senator Evans from Massachusetts.”
To her credit, Claudia looked surprised. “Really? So, it’s not that you don’t get along with a member of the Committee? You don’t get along with the Chairman of the Committee?”
I nodded. “He doesn’t like me. Well, he doesn’t like lobbyists in general, and I fall into that category. He scowls at me every time I’ve tried to talk to him. We’ve had more than one disagreement over legislation. I’ve quit calling on him, Claudia. I can’t take the abuse from him.”
“Abuse? That’s a strong word to use, Greer. Is he this way with all lobbyists or is it a gender issue?”
“Fine, maybe abuse is too harsh. It’s not like he’s ever raised a hand to me or anything. I like Patrick, his Chief of Staff, but the Senator isn’t open and friendly. I’ve never seen him with other lobbyists and I don’t ever talk about him with anyone else. Maybe he just hates me, I don’t know.”
“What are your thoughts about him? Do you hate him?”
I did not expect Claudia to ask me a question like that. I had to take a minute to think about the proper way to answer her because the truth was I liked the Senator. He drove me insane from a work perspective, but if I put that to the side, he’s a man of values, morals, and unwavering patriotism.
“Senator Evans is well-respected and well-versed. What I respect is his position and what he stands for. However, he doesn’t like lobbyists and is very vocal about that. Since that’s my vocation, I have to anticipate that he doesn’t have the same respect for me.” I take a deep breath before continuing. “He has integrity and can bring in support from both sides of the aisle. He is also opinionated, but I do think he is fair in his political judgments.”
Claudia began to smile. “You better be careful, Greer. It almost sounds like you have a crush on the Senator.”
I could feel my cheeks flush. “No, I don’t have a crush on him. All you hear is my respect for a man with a position of power within the government that I have to work with. I just wish he would realize that not all lobbyists are scum and that some of us have ideals outside of what we are paid to do.”
~ * ~
Immediately following lunch, I walked with Claudia to the office building where she would be setting up shop while in town. The building was a small business incubator that rents out office and conference space to visiting professionals who need a base of operations when they are in town temporarily.
“So you really won’t give me any information on your dinner meeting or potential candidate will you?”
Claudia let out a laugh. “I have to give you credit for being tenacious. But no, I’m not telling you anything. Maybe if the meeting goes well I can slide you some details tomorrow.”
Suddenly my mind went back to what Claudia had mentioned earlier. “Did you say you were going to get a hotel room?”
“Yeah, I’ll make a reservation when I get settled into the office.”
“I have a better idea. Why don’t you stay with me? Joanie and I have a small guest room that you can use. I mean it won’t be as nice as a fancy hotel room, but then again, you won’t have to wait for a reimbursement either.”
“You’re only offering so I’ll spill details after dinner tonight,” she said deadpanned.
“Well, yeah, that and I figure it can be like an old-fashioned sleepover. Come on, you said it yourself, it’s been too long since we’ve seen one another. This will give us time to catch up while you’re in town.”
I was selfish in asking her to stay. While I love having Joanie as my roommate and we share quite a bit, she works for me and there are some things we can’t talk about. There is a barrier that has to be there. With Claudia, it is a sense of home and family, something I miss terribly and long to have. I didn’t want to come out and say that to her. I didn’t want to make guilt her into agreeing to stay with me. But those were my reasons for pushing and offering her the room.
“You have a point. Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all! Is your bag already at the office? I can get it and take it home with me.”
~ * ~
After getting her bag and giving her the address for the apartment, I left and started for the nearest Metro station. I had to get back to the office and my car so I could drive home. I called Joanie to give her the heads up that we were going to have a guest at the apartment. I didn’t want to go into the office and tell her because I knew I would just end up working and I wanted to take the remainder of the day off. Just as I had anticipated, Joanie did not have an issue with Claudia staying with us. I think it’s because she knew she would be able to get ‘dirt’ on me by finally meeting someone from my past.
Once I arrived home, I cleaned the apartment from top to bottom. I then decided to settle in on the couch and continue my research for Briarwood Technical. I had to face Senator Evans in a few days and I needed to be completely prepared.