By Nathan Harter
---- — An hour before interns would arrive to answer the phone and sort the weekend mail, the staff at Congressman del Gato’s Washington D.C. office were gathering in the conference room for a routine Monday briefing.
In the next room with the door closed were two men. Standing behind his desk was Carter Clifford, the lanky chief of staff, and seated on the leather couch was an older gentleman who still had his hat on. Carter was talking.
“What do we tell them? They all know the Congressman was looking at his options.” He paused. “And they probably figured out why you had come around.” The seated man nodded gravely but said nothing.
The older man was known simply as Erwin. An éminence grise, the bachelor had a ponderous face, with a few gray hairs growing out of the top of his ruddy nose. He had been called to vet the Congressman, to investigate his past and find the proverbial skeletons in the closet before deciding whether to launch a campaign for the Senate. Carter had been the only one in the room when Erwin delivered his report on Friday directly to the Congressman. Since then, nobody had seen him.
Carter continued. “The Congressman has been holed up in that apartment all weekend. He’s not answering the phone. Obviously, his wife and kids stayed back in the district. I had to cancel two appearances Saturday.” Erwin nodded again. “I’m getting worried.”
Everything Erwin had unearthed about Tomaso del Gato was manageable, with one devastating exception. The Congressman had no idea his wife had been cheating on him. The news had fallen especially hard. Erwin had spared no details – about the other man, the rendezvous, the lies. Carter and Erwin then left him at his D.C. apartment, waiting to hear what he had decided. So far, nothing.
“Come on, Erwin, you’re the seer. What do you think?”
“I’m not a seer. I’m more of a seeker. You know the difference...” He looked up at the younger man. “A seeker is a blind man looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there. A seer is a blind man looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there, and he finds him.”
Carter persisted. “I mean, is the Congressman homicidal or suicidal, drunk or sober? More to the point, do you think he will run for the Senate or not?”
“Yes, he will run?”
“Yes, he is all of those things. I’m sure over the last two days he has run the gamut. We just rocked his world, Carter. Or, rather, his wife did. I’m sure his mind is racing in every direction. Anything is possible.”
“But we have staff waiting in the next room to hear how it went. Now, obviously we’re not going to mention what – what you found out, but they were expecting del Gato to be here. And they probably want to know if he’s in or out.”
“We can’t tell them what we don’t know.”
“So do we act like nothing happened?”
“Carter, your career has already changed its trajectory, based on what the Congressman has decided, and you don’t even know it yet. The same is true for them. Is he alive or is he dead? The only answer is, Yes.”
Erwin lowered his head and gazed stupidly at his hands. Carter ran his own hands through thinning hair, twisting around to look out the window. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. So much depended on what the Congressman decided, but nobody had seen him. Carter suggested they drive out to check on him.
“Once you do, my friend, then you will have your answer. Are you so eager to know? They say curiosity killed the cat.”
“It’s not just curiosity, Erwin. We need to know how to conduct business this week. Everything depends on this. The people out there” -- he gestured toward the conference room – “they need to know so they can do their jobs.”
Erwin shifted in his seat, finding a way to lay his head on his hand. This was as close as he ever came to expressing irritation with somebody, but he felt it was necessary to explain a few things to the younger man.
“Carter, you’ve had a good career, a linear path from college to Washington to chief of staff for a successful Congressman. Those who know you say you’re a young man on the rise, and I happen to agree.” Carter raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Nevertheless, you haven’t been dealt a real setback yet, an existential crisis of the sort we just delivered to the Congressman on Friday. So listen to someone older and wiser.
“Since Friday, del Gato has questioned everything. He has ransacked his memory for clues of betrayal he had missed. He blames himself. He blames her. He certainly blames the other guy, that toymaker. Like a shrewd politician, he ponders his options, and like a lovesick puppy he pities himself. He rages and weeps and calculates and turns inward. See, you have to understand that his life had been entangled in hers, Carter, more so than it was ever entangled in ours.
“He is different men right now,” Erwin continued. “And we won’t know which one he will be this week until somebody checks. You have the keys to his apartment. It probably is your place to drive over and see. But let me say that no matter what you find, he will have collapsed. Maybe not on the outside. Maybe he’s full of forgiveness or full of fight. But once you find him, keep in mind that he has collapsed.”
“Okay, so, what do I tell everybody in the meantime?”
“Say ‘yes’. For the time being, just say ‘yes’. So long as we don’t know for sure, it’s the truth. As a wise man once said, ‘There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.’”