This story concerns the lives of several gay men and uses the center of America's political power as the backdrop. It is generally bi-partisan and doesn't take sides.
Money is the fuel of the corruption in Washington, D.C., and the greed is fairly evenly spread between the two political parties. Of the current scandals, an article in Vanity Fair said it succinctly: "Washington is unraveling. What these revelations provide is a window into Babylon or the last stages of the Roman Empire…you're looking at is a world where money, secrecy, sex and indulgence were all in play."
There are many who were and are part of the culture of corruption in all branches of government and the civilian sector. As long as the cash and lobbyist perks keep flowing, the beast will continue to be fed. It seems that our elected leaders spend more time raising funds than governing the nation. Sadly, along the way, some - perhaps several - have fallen astray to the temptations of easy money for personal gain.
"We have not journeyed across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy." ~ Winston Churchill.
Where are our Churchills today?
Kyle was thinking about his good fortune in meeting a 'Mr. Right' at Cobalt the night before last. 'Well,' he decided, 'Mr. Right at least for a night.' The special assistant from the Vice President's office, MacDonald Price, gave him a card before departing very early. 'How did the saying go; a fuck in every port?' he thought, forlornly. 'Or a storm in every fuck?'
Cobalt hosted a retro Solid Gold night with buck martinis every Tuesday. Once in a while, Kyle loved trading in his pinstripes for a 'Levi's 501' look and kicking back to the 80's music. Role-playing in the nation's capital was the M.O., and at this hot Dupont Circle dance club it was no different than other meeting places dotted around the 'District' and beyond. However, the abundance of energetic young, gay males highlighted the desired point of difference for Kyle. His libido was still ready to kick into high-torque overdrive at the drop of a hat...like many guys in their 20's.
As with MacDonald Price from the executive branch, you never knew with whom you might hook up. Kyle considered calling 'Mac' to set up a date. 'Maybe Sunday brunch at Clyde's?' he wondered. 'Yep, I'm gonna call the guy this afternoon.' He had never had a real boy friend and was determined to find someone before the year was up. 'Christ, the gay mating game is just that; a friggin' game.'
"Blakesfield, you out there?" barked a voice on the desk inter-com.
Kyle picked up the telephone receiver and calmly replied, "Need me, Phil?" He had come to accept the annoying interruptions from his boss like the ebb and flow of the polluted Potomac River. If he had a window by his desk, Kyle Blakesfield would have been able to see nearby the flowing landmark, along with several historical national monuments.
"Yeah, buddy, it's crisis 'balls to the wall' time. Get your ass in here. We've got some damage control to attend to and a press release to crank out...pronto." The boss was Phil Tortello, press secretary to the Congresswoman from the Illinois 7th Congressional district; it encompassed most of Chicago from the tony Near North neighborhoods to the seamier sections of the South Side.
"Be right in." Kyle grabbed a legal pad and eased out of his desk chair. 'Christ, what has Mandy gotten into, now?' he wondered. Amanda Burns, known to her constituents and friends as Mandy, was in the middle of her third two-year term. She was generally considered unbeatable, unsinkable and unstoppable in her political career and growing party influence. It was Phil's job, with the able assistance of Kyle, to keep her star burnished and the spin positive.
"Close the door behind you," Phil said, looking up. "We've got some work to do before the news cycle. That is if you can get your mind focused. From the shit-eating grin you've had all day, you musta gotten laid last night?"
"Actually, two nights ago. A guy who works for the Vice President." Kyle smiled with a confident attitude. He knew that Phil was only razzing him.
"Congratulations. That's pretty high on the Washington food chain."
"Lawyer type. But then, aren't they all," Kyle replied with a shrug. "The sex was outstanding."
"Ewww, TMI. Maybe he'll come in handy as a contact sometime but right now we're on deadline."
"Its 1:00 p.m. on a Thursday so I guess it's crunch and scramble time," Kyle said as he plopped down on the side chair. "Important, huh?" Although it was only April, Mandy Burns and staff were in full campaign mode for the fall.
"You got that right. Mandy is possibly getting sucked into something big and in which she has no direct involvement." Phil looked up and stared at his young assistant.
"No direct involvement. How 'no direct' are we talking?"
"Here's the deal that just came over the AP newswire. Sid Abraham has been caught spreading around some very serious money on behalf of one of his lobbyist clients and part of the cash has been tracked to Mandy's Chicago office via one of our PAC's. Worse, he's suspected of embezzling client funds. The slime ball apparently has been funneling big bucks into his secret Cayman Islands bank account for some time. The networks and cable guys are really cranking up for this one."
"How much money to Mandy are we talking about?" Kyle raised his eyebrow and wrinkled his mouth. Mentally he compartmentalized the embezzlement issue for a different discussion.
"Fifty 'K'. It was part of a large contribution to a party PAC. But it gets worse."
"Worse for who?" Kyle started taking notes.
"Apparently Abraham funneled $500,000 to the head of the PAC - our esteemed party chairman. The rub is only $250,000 is accounted for. There's an allegation going around the grapevine that Abraham and the chairman split the half not reported. And that's just the shit that's simmering on the surface."
"So our mission is to keep Mandy's petticoats clean. Did she know anything about this?"
"No, she doesn't keep track of the accounting details...just a weekly summary."
"Is Fifty grand a big deal?" Kyle asked.
"Not really, although I agree that a one-shot payment should raise a red flag. But on a slow week we take in $50,000 and that's just to keep afloat and primed for the next campaign. This transaction was handled in Chicago. I've been on the horn with the treasurer and he didn't think that the contribution was a big deal...coming from a party-sponsored PAC. He does now." Phil leaned back in his swivel chair and momentarily stared at the ceiling. "He's covering his tracks and just sent back the money to the PAC."
"A simple case of 'shit for brains?'
"Her bagman in Chicago plays too loose. Washington ain't the Windy City," Phil replied. "Don't worry. We'll be finished in time to get over for a drink at JR's. I've got all phone calls on hold. Our job, Blakesfield, is to burnish the boss's image."
"Great. Let's get this thing pulled together so we can get out at a reasonable time. You buyin' tonight?" Kyle asked with a sly smile.
JR's had been a popular gay hangout in the Dupont Circle neighborhood for years. The primarily professional clientele ranged from Kyle's 25 years of age up to guys in their forties and beyond. Phil Tortello fell in the mid-range: a gentlemanly 38. Phil and Kyle generally met at JR's for an end-of-the-week cocktail to sort out things.
"If we get the dynamite press release on an email blast by three and if I get Mandy on one of the Sunday morning shows, I'll buy drinks and dinner."
"As a starving, young, assistant press secretary, I always accept a freebie," Kyle said with a smirk. He loved the casual relationship with his boss and an occasional repartee of verbal tongue-in-cheek jousting.
"Starving, my ass."
"Your ass is definitely not starving from what I hear."
"Buddy, as much as I'd like to discuss the finer points of sex encounters, we've got a job to do." Phil leaned forward, looked into his young assistant's eyes and nodded with a wink. "I figure with follow up phone calls, we'll be working a little later than usual. And I just called Wolf Blitzer's office to set up a brief interview for a 'Situation Room' segment just after five. CNN will give us a break."
"Let's get cracking, then." Kyle loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves.
Over the next hour the two men developed a strategy and crafted an outline for a release that would be ready for Mandy Burns' approval. Ideas bounced back and forth with Kyle playing the role of devil's advocate. Kyle jotted down ideas and verbally tossed them out to Phil: a word added, a nuance suggested, a clever quote created. Once they were in agreement, Phil pounded out a rough paragraph. Later, they went through a series of inserts and deletes. 'Thank God for the cut and paste feature,' Kyle thought.
"That's it. Go back to your desk and polish it. Mandy wants to see us with the final product in a half hour." Phil stood, stretched, yawned and scratched his flat stomach. "Thanks for your input. Now I'm going to call Fox and NBC. Word is that the Abraham allegations are going to be a big topic this weekend on the talk shows. If I can get Wallace and Russert's producers to commit to scheduling Mandy for an interview, it'll be like grabbing the golden ring," Phil added with satisfaction.
"Good luck. I can taste the martini and a steak already." Kyle waved and returned to his desk, found the rough release in the 'shared documents' file and opened it. 'Time to get this sucker pulled together,' he thought, while focusing on the project. He was very pleased at the friendship that had been nurtured with Phil, separate from the mutual respect each held for the other.
Three years ago he had come to D.C. as a junior reporter and research assistant in the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau. It was considered a good career choice for a guy just out of Northwestern's 'J' school. He was assigned to a couple of the senior 'byline' reporters and soon became a dependable part of the writing team. He considered the endless legwork just part of the learning curve.
Kyle selectively hit a few nearby Dupont Circle gay bars after moving and within a short time made some good friends to hang with...after the obligatory physical, sexual excursions with some of the hotter guys. Kyle's gregarious personality, quick wit, credible job and youthful good looks cobbled together a passport to the inner-sanctum of the gay social scene. He learned the finer points of networking and was soon anointed as a newbie in the pink-hued "A" group.
He had been invited to a Christmas cocktail party by a mature gay couple who shared a beautiful, stately home just north of Embassy Row. Kyle later learned that the Kalorama neighborhood was a highly desirable address for the District's movers and shakers, gay or straight. In addition to a few 'out' politicians, government lawyers, PR guys, lobbyists and twink eye candy, Kyle met a young-appearing, in-shape, thirty-ish man who was a press secretary to a congresswoman.
Throughout the evening they dueled intellectually and exchanged humorous observations about Washington. When Phil Tortello asked him to leave the party and come home for further conversation, Kyle smiled and negotiated that breakfast be served the next morning.
Over the next month, Kyle and Phil ran the gamut of sexual versatility until friendship won out over physical needs and desires. At that point, Phil offered Kyle the job that would change his young life and accelerate his professional mobility. Although reluctant to leave the Trib, Kyle found the idea of being in the vortex of Washington politics very appealing. Kyle remembered Phil saying, "Now that we've got the sex out of the way, we can be good friends and colleagues."
It was 2:20 p.m. as Kyle hit 'save' and then 'print'. He pulled the two pages out of the printer and rushed into Phil's office. "This looks good. Mandy really comes up smelling like roses," Kyle said breathlessly.
"As opposed to a dog turd, you mean? Sit while I check it out." Phil motioned to a chair as he started reading with intense concentration. He circled a few areas and returned it to Kyle. "You're such a comma-queen," he said with a smile. "Correct these marks and I'll meet you at your desk in five. Mush, husky."
"Not mush, Phil. Filet mignon, medium-rare, and a bottle of Jordan cabernet." Kyle grabbed the corrected copy, bowed in an exaggerated courtier's gesture and returned to his desk. He scrolled down and amended the press release and went through the final save and print process.
"Let's go. She's waiting." Phil walked over to the printer and grabbed the release.
"Is Mandy in a good mood?"
"She will be after she reads this. I'm brilliant as usual," Phil replied with a throaty laugh.
"There's no 'I' in team, Mr. Goebbels." Kyle trailed behind as they walked to the corner office.
"I'll remember that, Herr Blakesfield." Phil nodded to a secretary and they walked into the corner office. "Mandy, here's the release. I think it hits all the points and addresses your innocence. As you note, Kyle and I emphasized that you had no knowledge of Abraham's involvement, and the money has been returned to the PAC. They're squarely in the hot seat."
Kyle knew that Phil had been pulling his chain and really appreciated the acknowledgement that it was a joint effort.
"Boys, sit for a sec. Phil, please read the release out loud." Congresswoman Amanda Burns pointed to the office couch as she rose from her desk and joined them in an easy chair. She nodded to Phil and closed her eyes.
Kyle listened as Phil read the release with appropriate pauses. He watched Mandy nodding with approval as each point was addressed. Kyle observed that, as usual, not a hair was out of place. Her dark blue business suit was wrinkle free, the accessorized gold jewelry was just conservative enough not to draw undue attention and the makeup was subtle. Although she was a little heavy, Mandy's 45 years were wearing well. Phil finished and there was a lengthy pause as the words were digested. Finally, Mandy opened her eyes and smiled.
"Really great, guys. That'll keep me flying high for the weekend. Speaking of which, how's the progress on the Sunday shows?"
"I think we've got Wallace and Fox in the bag. They gave me a 95% yes. Russert's guys are holding out for a while. But they've got the number one show. It's always like this. They promised to give a yeh or nay by noon tomorrow."
"No, that's BS. Call NBC right now and let them know that I'd love to be on Tim's show but my schedule is getting heavy. Tell them that I need to know by 6:00 p.m. tonight."
"Right, boss. I'll get right on it. Kyle will put out the email blast for the release and I'll make the call. Then we'll work the phones. We'll call the Times and Post and Kyle will blow a little smoke up someone at the Tribune. I'll personally make sure Novak has the scoop for the Sun-Times. "
"Phil, Kyle...thanks. It's important to diffuse this. Sid Abraham is going to be toxic and I need to be miles away from that guy. Heads are going to roll on this one. I'm outta here for a meeting with the minority leader and you can imagine what the topic will be. Then I'm going over to the CNN studios. I'll see you guys in the morning. Let's plan on going over the 'clips' with coffee around eight. Okay?"
"We'll be there." Phil turned and walked out the door. Kyle followed and stopped at his desk. Phil continued to his office with his marching orders.
'Jeez,' Kyle thought, 'I can't play too much tonight.' Kyle decided that he would get up at 6:30 a.m. and have an early breakfast in the staff cafeteria. 'Give me a chance to read the papers,' Kyle decided.
* * *
Phil suggested that he and Kyle try a popular place on 18th Street called The Little Fountains Café in the Adams-Morgan area. He figured they could drive over for dinner and stop by JR's on the way back.
"As long as they have a good piece of beef," Kyle told him, "I'll be a happy camper."
Throughout dinner, they re-capped the day's activities. Mandy's CNN appearance went well and all the networks' news operations bought into the spin. The plan, throughout the rest of the week and weekend, was to distance Mandy as far as possible from the Abraham taint.
JR's was just cranking up for the late evening when the guys arrived shortly after 9:00 p.m. There was always a lull between the cliquey happy hour crowd and the anxious singles coming in for serious cruising. Phil and Kyle represented a minority group that was in for a nightcap and conversation.
"Thanks, Phil," Kyle said as they stood at the bar. Clinking snifters, he inhaled the bouquet of the Grand Marnier before taking a small sip. "I appreciate the chow and drinks."
"Ya did good today. And I know that the personal budget can get a little tight. I was in your position when I was 25."
"You mean your legs flailing in the air while you yelled 'fuck me'?" Kyle said with a snort. He put his hand on Phil's arm and squeezed it gently. "Bad joke. And I do appreciate it. I mean, sharing a one bedroom apartment with my straight college fraternity brother is tough enough."
"How is Chaz doing? I haven't seen him since the Christmas holidays."
"Pretty good. He's dating some gal with her own studio apartment. So, at least he's getting laid once in a while. If it's as serious as it looks, they'll be looking for a place of their own in a couple of months. I can swing the rent by myself if I budget myself. At 25, I'm ready to stop the roommate routine." Kyle and Chaz had been roommates at the Phi Delt house in Evanston When both accepted jobs in D.C. and to stretch meager starting salaries, they decided to continue the friendly roomie relationship. Chaz became aware of Kyle's sexuality when they were juniors at Northwestern and said he couldn't give a rat's ass - as he put it - that Kyle was gay. Kyle never did anything to betray that trust.
"You're up for a raise. By this summer, we'll know how finances are shaping up. Trust me...I'll take care of you. I appreciate the job you're doing and Mandy does too."
"Man, that'd be great. I'm really ready to have an apartment by myself." Kyle digested the information as he took another sip of the liqueur. "Or marry well."
"Hold down the wedding bells and the fort. I'm going to hit the 'john'. Be right back." Phil left his snifter on the bar and walked to the rear of the room. Kyle noticed Phil greet a few of the patrons before disappearing.
"Hi. Mind if I squeeze in here?" came a voice from behind Kyle.
Kyle turned to investigate who was addressing him. Standing at approximately the same 5' 10" height was a guy about the same age and general physique, Kyle judged. "Naw, as long as we leave room for my friend. I'm Kyle." Kyle smiled and extended his hand. He was drawn to the gray-green eyes that were accentuated by dark brown hair and ruddy cheeks.
"I'm Dexter. But everybody calls me Dex." He took Kyle's hand and shook it.
"Hey, you got it easy. Everybody calls me shithead." Kyle grinned and grabbed his snifter.
"I'll call you Kyle. Shithead sounds too endearing," Dex said with a laugh. "Can I buy you a drink?" Dex raised his hand to flag down a bartender. "A Bud, no glass, and see what my friend wants, please," he said when the bartender came over. Dex pulled out some money and laid the bills on the bar.
"Naw, but thanks. My buddy and I have to get to the office early on a project."
"Buddy? As in..."
"We work together and he's my boss." Kyle noticed a small smile creep across Dex's face with that information on the table. 'Or bar, in this case,' he thought.
"What kind of work do you do, if you don't mind me inquiring?" The bartender placed a Bud longneck in front of Dex and grabbed the five-dollar bill.
"Like everyone else in this whacko town, government work. How about you?" Kyle asked.
"Well, indirectly, the same thing. I'm a junior lawyer for a lobbyist firm. Do all the grunt work for the big guys."
"You know this guy, Sid Abraham?" Kyle studied Dex's handsome face as it changed various colors of red before settling in on crimson. 'Whoops,' he thought, 'I've touched a sensitive area.'
"Umm, I guess news travels fast. Abraham was, and I repeat, was, a senior partner in the firm I work for until Monday. It's all I can really say. What's coming out is pretty embarrassing for everyone at Biggs and Dasch."
"I can imagine. Abraham is the reason my boss and I are having a few. Wind down time after handling some emergency press relations. Phil, the guy who is walking towards us, is the press secretary for Congresswoman Amanda Burns. I'm his assistant."
"Oh, shit. I'm sorry that we're meeting under these circumstances." Dex grabbed the cold Bud and took a long drink.
"Hey, no big deal. I'm just a grunt, too, and you seem like a nice guy." Kyle turned to Phil and said, "Phil, say hi to Dex. He works over at Biggs and Dasch." Kyle watched Phil as he slowly understood what Kyle had just told him.
"Hmm, Abraham, huh? Hi, Dex. Phil Tortello. I guess we both have crap to deal with in our offices?" Phil and Dex shook hands before he grabbed his snifter and took a gulp of the amber beverage.
"Yeah, Abraham...the ex-partner of the firm. As I was telling Kyle, I can't really say anything 'cept there's no excuse for what happened and we don't do business that way."
"I understand, Dex. But Sid has really stirred up the muck in this town and we're all going to be earning our salaries for a while. There's going to be some careers ruined over this stuff. But, as they say, life goes on...and on. The public will forget about this in two months, tops."
"You think so? I hope you're right." Dex considered what Phil had said and swallowed another long pull.
"Me, too. But don't worry; there'll probably be another crisis next month." Phil finished his drink and said, "Kyle, I'm outta here. Can I give you a lift?"
"Thanks, but I'll walk. See ya in the office in the morning. I'm going to grab breakfast down in the cafeteria and review the papers around 7:30 a.m."
"Perhaps I'll join you. Dex, good luck on tidying up that mess. I hope we run into each other again...socially." Phil nodded and patted Kyle on the back.
"Same here, Phil. G'night." Dex raised his bottle in a salute as Phil sauntered away.
"Nice guy, and so are you," Dex said. "Um, could I ask if you're single?"
"Single and 25. You?" Kyle casually scanned the man before him again and verified he liked what he had seen originally.
"Free as a bird and I turn 27 in December. Listen, you want to split from here? I live over on P Street."
"I'm not into one-night stands, Dex." Kyle hoped his nose wasn't growing at this statement. He sensed that there was something different about this guy and he wanted to take it slowly...for a change. 'What is it about this guy?' he wondered a little uneasily. 'He's offering himself on a silver platter and I don't want to rush it.'
"Ah, if you'd like, perhaps we could get together for, um, maybe dinner, sometime?" Dex looked into Kyle's eyes with an expression pleading for a 'yes'.
"I'm tied up this weekend. How about next Wednesday? There are some neat Thai places around here and I don't live too far. Or perhaps a brasserie a couple of blocks away that puts out some pretty good, cheap Indian food. Maybe we could meet here for happy hour and then go on?"
"Kyle, that'd be super. Here's a card with my cell and email address. By the way, my last name's Tate. Shall we touch base on Monday?" Dex smiled and seemed to relax a bit.
"Absolutely. Let me give you my card. I officially go by the name of Blakesfield." He pulled out his wallet and fished out his card. Kyle tried to hide the giddiness and excitement he felt as he handed it to Dex.
"Mr. Kyle Blakesfield, Mr. Dexter Tate looks forward to dinner and...." Dex took the card and held Kyle's fingers for a moment.
"Conversation," Kyle replied and laughed. 'For openers,' he thought. "Call me."