Friday, May 20, 2005
Barbara Nakamura was enjoying the day as she pushed her groceries to her car. For good reasons was Barbara contented: The late afternoon temperature was balmy, the sky over Alexandria, Virginia was blue mixed with fluffy white clouds, and birds were singing.
When smiling Barbara reached her car, she idly noted a faded red pickup was parked next to it. The truck’s hood was up, and she heard two men talking. She turned to unlock her driver’s door.
Her left arm was seized from behind, and something hard and cold was jammed into her side.
“Barbara, I have a gun.” Now she recognized Joe’s voice. Joe then said, “Unlock the back door.”
“No. You won’t shoot me in front of witnesses.”
“You sure?” The gun poked her. “Unlock the back door.”
Be calm, Barbara told herself. “You got it, Joe.”
Barbara swallowed when the second man at the truck turned out to be Bernoulli, who got into the back seat of Barbara’s car.
His eyes were eager. “Boy, will we have fun today.”
Her mouth went dry. Joe had the muscles to blend in at Venice Beach, while Bernoulli looked like a regular at comic-book conventions—but Bernoulli she judged more dangerous.
Joe was still standing behind Barbara. He said, “Now load the groceries into your car like you would normal. I’ll help you, but don’t try to run.” She transferred the bags, putting the food on the back seat next to Bernoulli. Joe said, “Passenger door unlocked?”
She obeyed, while Joe shut the hood on the pickup. He came around her car and climbed into the passenger seat. Immediately he dug into her purse, found her digital phone, and pocketed it. “You’ll get this back when we’re done.”
In her rear-view mirror, Bernoulli smiled at her. “You’ll probably be alive to use it. Good news, huh?”
They had her drive a block north, then pull over. Joe said, “Switch places with Bernoulli.” As Bernoulli pulled her car back into traffic, Joe told her, “Get down and stay down.”
From her huddled position in the back seat, she called to her kidnappers, “Did Matt put you up to this?”
Bernoulli’s laugh was like the bark of a seal. “Do we look like guys who’d hang out with a senator?”
“Besides,” Joe said, “your husband is a hero.”
“For selling out California?” Barbara’s laugh was sour. “My husband’s a snake, and this is too convenient for him.”
“You’re way off,” Joe said. “Our people have a plan, but you keep messing up the plan, so you and us are taking a trip.”
Barbara snorted. “I can guess the plan: When those trillions of dollars filter down to Joe Blow, your people plan to show him how fun gambling can be—for a killer percentage in return.”
Bernoulli said, “Still, you’re working to starve hardworking casinos, you bad girl. And bad girls become good girls, else they’re punished.”
“Killing me won’t sell California to Japan. The California Treaty is unconstitutional.”
“Not what your husband says on TV,” said Joe. “Says some Supreme Court case long ago means the president can sell California.”
Bernoulli reached over the seat to Barbara behind him, groped for her hair, then pulled it. Her scalp felt like it was on fire. As Barbara gasped, he said, “Lady, you don’t gotta worry about no Constitution. All you need to worry about are hamstringing and permanent scarring—dying too, if you really piss me off. Those, I’d worry big about, if I was you.”
Ten minutes later, Joe called to huddled-down Barbara, “Sit up.”
They were pulling into a motel. The place needed painting, several doors had their numbers missing, grass grew untrimmed through cracks in the pavement, and empty bottles and other trash were everywhere. Barbara spotted too many local tags among the cars—clearly she’d get no help from her new neighbors. Bernoulli pressed his switchblade against her while Joe unlocked the door to Room 31. But as Bernoulli was covering her with his right hand, he also was digging through her groceries with his left hand. She heard a plastic bag rustle.
Bernoulli force-marched her into Room 31. Joe eyed the onion that Bernoulli held in his left hand. “What is that for?”
Bernoulli smiled with delight. “We’re gonna make her sad that she keeps bothering the treaty.”
Six Weeks Earlier
Thursday, April 7, 2005
Alexandria, Virginia was only minutes south of Washington, D.C. That is, except during rush hour—then the trip took years.
But being a senator’s wife meant that Barbara never suffered through rush hour. Like all souls in hell are safe from frostbite, she long ago had realized.
The Nakamuras’ house, in Alexandria’s Old Town, was another supposed perk. Trim-landscaped, three-bedroom, two-story, with two full baths and a den, the house was painted forest green with cream trim. But inside this mansion, Barbara was hand-washing the dishes from supper for one. Her digital phone, which was lying on the kitchen counter, started playing “California, Here I Come.”
At the same time, upstairs in the home office, Matthew “Bomber” Nakamura picked up his own phone to make a call. Matt’s home-office line was paid for with public money—but Matt hoped this call would be for his decidedly personal benefit.
Barbara dried her wet hands, then picked up the digital phone. “Barbara. Hello.”
“Stop the presses! New banner headline: `Senator Nakamura is a rotten husband.’” The voice of Carol Parks held a smile.
Barbara returned to her everyday voice. “Hi, Carol, great you called. But from work? Tsk.”
“No, this is news-related. Consider this an interview.”
“Got an American Red Cross story, or is it flower arranging?”
“No, the treaty. You’re the ideal person for the Union-Tribune to interview about it.”
Barbara frowned. “Which treaty?”
As Matt touch-toned the Northern California phone number, he thought, Gary seems like a ripe one. Ten seconds later, Matt switched to Tone of Voice One (Friendly): “Gary, this is Senator Nakamura. I’m giving you my full attention about bill S.556.”
“Thanks, Senator. Bill S.556, is that the one—?”
“About timber harvesting in national forests. Sherry tells me that you’re worried that this bill hurts the timber industry.”
“Hurts? Try screws. Those ivory-tower bunny and birdy lovers—”
“Can be unreasonable, I agree,” Matt said, in sympathetic Tone of Voice Five. “Still, they do make a strong case for this bill. Besides, we Democrats have a proud tradition of saving the environ—”
“Dammit, monthly environmental impact reports? Those regs will ruin my mill—we’ll produce paperwork instead of paper. Please, Senator, stop this bill.”
Matt just loved a man who was rich and desperate. Commence Operation Shakedown.
Carol was laughing into Barbara’s ear. “Which treaty? The one that sells California to Japan, silly.”
“My god, this came over the wire three hours ago. Doesn’t Matt talk to you?”
“You kidding? He walked in fifteen minutes ago, kissed me on the cheek, grabbed a beer, and dashed straight upstairs.”
“Still, any caring husband would’ve made time to say, `Honey, you won’t believe what happened today.’ But no-o-o—”
“Enough, Carol! Tell me about the treaty.”
“Japan gets California, our whole state, and in return they have to pay three trillion dollars a year for twenty years.”
Barbara blinked. “That’s a price tag of…sixty million million dollars.”
“Right. The rest of the treaty is the details.”
“I’m floored—what a ridiculous and unnecessary treaty. Anyway, you’re calling from work because you want my response?”
“Yeah. I assigned myself you and Matt, editor’s privilege. Two minutes ago, did you hear the phone ring upstairs? That was me.”
Barbara sighed. Even by Carol, Matt gets called first. No matter the journalist, a senator’s wife is the afterthought. “What did Matt say?”
“Treaty has no chance; forget it.”
“…Please, Senator, stop this bill,” Gary said.
Matt’s voice was warm, caring; Dale Carnegie would have smiled approval. “Hey, relax. Since Forestry Committee is evenly split but for me, I can help you.”
“Thanks, Senator, I really appre—”
“Trouble is, constituent messages to me likewise divide out fifty-fifty.”
“But the polls say Californians think this bill is psycho, way too extreme.”
“My mail is running even, believe me. Anyhow, Gary, I haven’t decided how my vote will go—I’m open to `persuasion.’”
“And how can I persuade you, Senator?” Gary’s voice held no wariness; clearly he’d missed Matt’s hint.
Matt took a breath to calm himself, for he needed his next words to sound ordinary. “A contribution now to my re-election campaign would leave me deeply moved by your trust and regard. A contribution of at least…ten grand is a nice, round number.”
Gary neither slammed down the phone nor started swearing. Instead, he fell silent. Matt had learned to keep quiet himself.
Matt had counted to thirty-seven when Gary sighed over the phone. “Whose name do I write on the overnight envelope?”
I love my life. “I or Sherry Adams may sign for it. Address it to me, and write `Personal and Confidential’ on the outside, several places, in big letters.”
Now on to Step Two: getting the money as cash. Matt switched to Tone of Voice Six (Casual): “Oh, Gary? You might want to deliver it by courier.”
“By courier for a check?”
“It would be better to send me cash, since my campaign petty-cash fund is always low. I would be really grateful.”
“Oh. I’ll need a receipt, for tax purposes.”
Matt shook his head at the man’s denseness. “Sorry, my staff can be really casual about record-keeping—likely your donation won’t be written down anywhere.” Before Gary could speak, Matt said, “But hey, even though your money won’t be recorded, doesn’t mean I won’t remember you. Besides, I’ve yet to find even one endangered species that can vote.”
“You mother, you,” Gary said. “Okay, Bomber, you’ll have your bribe by Tuesday. Small, unmarked bills are still traditional?” Gary didn’t wait for Matt to answer before slamming down the phone. Matt shrugged.
The way Matt saw it, he was way underpaid as a senator: For his responsibilities, a million tax-free dollars a month wouldn’t be enough. So why not use his Senate seat to harvest as much as he could?
“I just love a man who’s rich and desperate,” a satisfied Matt said aloud.
Barbara told Carol, “I’m sure Matt brought the treaty home with him. Let me read it and I’ll call you with my reaction.”
Seconds later, Barbara was climbing the stairs. She heard Matt hang up the phone in the home office, then remark aloud. She knocked; “Okay to come in?” When he didn’t object, she opened the door.
Matt had the nervous eyes of a boy who’d just hidden a Playboy under the bed—though at fifty-one, Matt was no boy. He ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair; obviously he was bothered by her surprising him. “Hi, what’s up?” he asked.
Were you talking to a woman, Matt? “Carol just called me about the California treaty. Do you have a copy of it?”
Matt opened his briefcase, found the treaty, and handed it to her. With fake casualness he shut the briefcase before she could do more than glance inside.
Rather than comment on that, she said instead, “Carol was amazed you didn’t tell me about this.”
“I had a Forestry bill on my mind when I walked in, didn’t have time to talk.”
She held his eye. “These days you never have time to talk.”
“Does the word swamped mean anything to you?”
“No free minute in your entire day?”
“What’s the deal? It’s a joke treaty.”
“We shared jokes, once.”
He made a face of impatience.
Sighing, she turned her attention to the pages she was holding. She noted his handwriting in the top margin of the first page. “`REASONS TO SELL CALIFORNIA,’ `REASONS TO KEEP CALIFORNIA,’ what are these?”
“Got a call from the White House just before I left the office. No way could I buy what Charlie told me, but it so amazed me, I wrote it down.”
“I guess Charlie remembered what subcommittee you chair, besides what state you represent.”
“Yeah, the president knows I have both motive and opportunity to shut down his treaty. Anyway, Charlie’s talking like this treaty is so vital to America’s future.”
“How could he possibly say that?”
“He called our monstrous national debt `a termite colony that nobody heeds.’ Look there, Charlie gave me four reasons why he claims America needs this treaty.”
REASONS TO SELL CALIFORNIA
1. Lots of money in treasury, for either new projects or debt elimination, or both.
2. Pays for START III (“Nickels-for-Nukes”) Treaty.
3. Japan hobbled for twenty years, which is great for USA in international competition.
4. Many businesses would move from California—reduces unemployment in rest of United States.
Barbara pointed to Reason Two. “Evidently America’s president plans to pay for Russia’s missiles with Japan’s money.”
Then Barbara’s eyes drifted across the margin, and she laughed out loud.
REASON TO KEEP CALIFORNIA
1. If California goes, I’ll lose my job.
Matt smiled. “My list’s shorter than Charlie’s, but more persuasive.”
“So why’d Charlie call you? How can he expect you to vote for this?”
“He wants me to not sabotage the treaty. As if there were danger of it passing in spite of me.”
“And you told Charlie no.”
“DeGarcia told Charlie no. Charlie told me Hector screamed at him, `I campaigned hard for you last November, and now you betray me?’”
“Did you scream, too? Five years ago, it was you and I stumping with Charlie.”
“No, I just cut a deal. I don’t break my back to kill the treaty, and the president keeps his veto pen in the drawer for a while.”
He grinned at her disapproving tone. “Other senators practice pork-barrel politics; I am stimulating California’s economy.”
Barbara frowned. Rather than argue, she picked up the cable-TV remote. “I wonder what the news is saying?” She turned on the computer monitor, set it to TV mode, then pumped American Satellite News into it.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Leaird was smiling and joking for the cameras: “…But folks, when Charles Swensen was a boy, did somebody beat his head in with a cornstalk? This treaty is the biggest waste of the Senate’s time since the quorum call was invented. It should be Comedy Central that televises the hearings. And if the treaty gets two votes when the joint committee votes, I’ll watch the sun rise in the west the next morning.”
Matt’s hand shot forward to stab the monitor’s Power button. “It’s bad enough, my suffering that hyena at work.”
As Barbara was turning off the cable box, she asked, “What’s this about a joint committee? Treaties are supposed to be referred only to CFR,” the Committee on Foreign Relations.
“Yeah, supposed to. But Dick Thompson asked unanimous consent for a joint referral. So Armed Services could study treaty parts about California military bases, he said. Also to lay down a precedent, which he forgot to mention.”
“Nobody objected? Joe Bob Saunders didn’t object?”
“You know I wanted to, but it was Farmboy Saunders’s place to speak up. He almost didn’t—it was as if he didn’t care. But he looked back and saw me glaring at him: `Dammit, start acting like the chairman you are!’ So he stood up and reminded Dave, `Any treaty goes only to Foreign Relations.’”
“How odd that Dave even needed to be told. You can’t become majority leader without knowing something so basic.”
“Knowing and honoring aren’t the same,” Matt said, hammering his knee with his fist. “Right after Saunders sat down, Dave himself stood up and said, `I know a treaty hasn’t been jointly referred in the Senate in my memory. However, this treaty vitally impacts our national defense. I beg Mister Saunders to reconsider.’”
“That’s trouble.” Barbara laid her hand on Matt’s.
Matt, gesturing as he told his story, pulled his hand out from under Barbara’s. “Saunders turned and looked at me, then he turned and looked at Dave and Dick. `Okay, fine,’ he said. `But I insist, Mister Nakamura still chairs the hearings.’”
“Poor Joe Bob had to decide who to make mad at him. And Dave and Dick had you both outnumbered and outpowered.”
“At least you’re still the hearings chair.” Barbara squeezed Matt’s arm.
He shrugged. “But now I’m stuck with Armed Services’ ranking minority member, whose clever wit you just heard.”
Barbara made a wry smile. “If it will make you feel better, I know Steve Leaird is just as upset to be working with you.” She squeezed Matt’s arm again.
That’s when Barbara’s eye was caught by a bird flying outside the window. The bird landed in the back yard and began hopping around in the long shadows. Daylight still? A glance at the clock showed not yet seven. Matt usually wasn’t home until long after dark—but for now she refused to worry about that.
She turned back to him. “What are your plans for tonight?”
He blinked at her change of topic. “Hm, I finished everything I need to do tonight. I guess massage some legislation, then watch TV. Why?”
“I was thinking of catching a movie.” She waved the treaty. “After I call Carol back, why don’t you join me?”
“A movie? Maybe Wanted: James Bond?”
She smiled, amused. “No, Endless Circle. I enjoyed the book.”
“A mystery, I hope.”
“No, it’s about a middle-aged woman and her troubled relationships with men. At forty-seven, I relate. I’ll bring tissues in my purse.”
“Mm, sounds delightful.” His face disagreed. “Violent?”
“Only one death, natural causes.”
He smiled. “This is a problem, and I see nothing but torrid sex to hope for. Let’s do it.”
She blinked. “Are you ill? You haven’t been this easy since our third anniversary.”
“Back in San Diego I didn’t value how carefree my life was. I need a break. Tomorrow we’ll go to the Canadian ambassador’s party, and I’ll play senator—but tonight I want an ordinary life. Ordinary people go to movies.”
“You’re agreeing to do something with me that I want to do?”
“For my own reasons, but yes. Plan on it.”
She strutted to Matt still in his chair, and caressed his stomach (“Mmm, flat”) and his pecs (“Mmm, firm.”) She picked up the treaty and walked to the door—but with hip-swing enough to grind pepper. At the door she turned and, using the treaty pages, covered her face below the eyes like the geisha of Old Japan did with their fans. “Okay, tiger,” she said, “I promise you `ordinary’ tonight. Until bedtime, or until we find a conference table.”
Downstairs, Barbara plopped herself into the papa-san chair and began to read the treaty.
The treaty contained thirty-eight articles, covering everything from what made a legal name, to how the prisons and jails would be transferred. Most of the treaty was boring—but a few parts would keep editorialists across America scribbling for weeks, besides causing a meltdown on the Internet.
One of the boring, workhorse articles decreed that for a while afterward, California traffic laws would still be enforced and California drivers’ licenses required. This meant Japanese pioneers would have to learn how to drive on the right and would be required to learn American traffic signs.
No easy task, that. Barbara had learned at age five how different California traffic laws were from Japan’s. She recalled the traffic signs in the books that Ojii-san (Grandfather), Obaa-san, Aunt Makiko, and Aunt Chieko had sent Barbara when she’d been a child.
The books had had pictures and Japanese writing. Sometimes a picture had shown a road sign Barbara didn’t know. So she had asked Mother what the sign said. Mother had told her how people drive in Japan. One time Mother had been teaching Barbara about a road sign in a book, when suddenly Mother had looked sad. Mother had told little Barbara, “I miss the traffic signs. They’re part of Japan that I miss.”
Later, Barbara had been fifteen, and her father had been stationed in Japan the second time. Had her gaijin classmates been impressed that she spoke fluent Japanese? So what, they thought. That she could read and write Japanese at the sixth-grade level? Big deal, they thought. But some kids had tripped out that a girl their age, who wasn’t a math brain, already could work mile-kilometer conversions—
Quit daydreaming, Barbara told herself in present time.
Barbara now forced her thoughts back to evaluating the treaty. The whole idea was outlandish, selling off California. Not to mention how many special interest groups were cleaning their weapons to battle the treaty. Barbara’s conclusion: The California Treaty had no hope of approval.
Barbara’s gaze was caught by the framed anniversary photograph on a nearby wall. Photograph-Matt gazed adoringly at photograph-Barbara. Which proves that politicians are good actors.
Then the other framed photograph in the living room caught her glance. Hand-dated December 2000, in that photo Charlie Swensen was pumping Matt’s hand and grinning. On that photo the president-elect had scrawled with felt-tip pen, “Thanks, Matt, you won me California.”
Barbara smiled, amused. “Gee, Mister President, don’t you want to keep your prize?”
Then she pulled out her digital phone to call her mother, Takeko Morris, in San Diego.
She heard Matt’s phone ring upstairs.
Downstairs, mother and daughter exchanged greetings in Japanese, then each shared her day with the other. Barbara asked Takeko if she’d heard about the treaty. No. Barbara explained it, then asked her mother, “So what do you think?”
“I don’t need to move to Japan—now Japan moves to me? Wondrous. Don’t you agree, Daughter?”
After a pause, Barbara said, “Agreement is difficult.”
Had Barbara not been constrained by the rules of polite Japanese, she would have said instead, “Mother, are you nuts?”
Matt’s upstairs office said much about him. Not all of it was flattering.
To his right hung a stolen government-issue clock. On the facing wall were three photographs. The first was of him giving an election-night victory speech back in San Diego, and the second was of him shaking hands with Russian President Dimitrov. The third photo was of Matt in 2000, nonchalant next to then-candidate Charlie Swensen. In both the victory-speech photo and the picture with Swensen, Matt was wearing the bomber jacket.
To Matt’s left, just beyond his office desk, a window looked out onto the back yard. Decades earlier, one also could see the Potomac from that window. On the doorknob of the bedroom door hung his suit coat on a hanger, tie draped over the coat. A computer desk was behind him, its equipment now turned off. Near the computer monitor was the cable-TV box, its remote, and the Internet cable modem. The computer desk hosted eight empty beer bottles, and a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People that leaned against the monitor. Matt sat in a black executive chair, whose leather creaked whenever his weight shifted. The chair, too, was “borrowed” government property.
In a little frame on the far left corner of the office desk sat a clone of the downstairs twentieth-anniversary portrait of him and Barbara. The two-thousand-page Black’s Law Dictionary blocked his view of most of the photo. Setting on the middle of the desk was his open briefcase, jammed with papers. A legal pad lay atop the desk, to the right of the briefcase. The ringing telephone sat to the briefcase’s left.
Matt picked up the receiver. “This is Senator Nakamura.”
“Hello, Matthew.” Mela Jackson’s voice dripped with sex.
He glanced at the door: shut. “Why have you called me at home?”
“Did you want me to call you at work? Suppose someone overheard me and told my boss?”
“If Gibson asked, I’d tell him it was his staffer who initiated the affair.”
“Come now. After all the rumors about you?”
“Whatever. Why are you calling me here?”
“Remember Tuesday night? Wendall Harland? You introduced me to Secretary of State Harland, and I am so grateful.”
Matt felt frustrated that he couldn’t express his jealousy. “Harland’s married.”
“So are you.”
“So now your ice-cube trick creates another addict.”
“Nuh-uh, Matthew, remember Rule Four: `You may not ask about my other friends.’ About Wendall Harland I’ll neither confirm nor deny.”
“Your attitude stinks. Plenty of women in Washington—”
“How many have tits my size? How many have kept up Kegel exercises for the past six years? You’ve seen my collection of sex manuals. Am I not the best lay you’ve ever imagined?”
Matt could not disagree, but agreeing would give Mela an edge later. Matt kept silent.
Mela broke the silence: “Meanwhile, I use my MBA every day, writing tax legislation for Senator Gibson. I’m no bimbo, I’m your equal—”
Matt’s laugh was scornful. “How you figure that?”
“I have sexual power like few women, sexual power to match your power over appropriations and laws. But you wound me. I told you I’m grateful for Harland—and buster, I intend to prove that.”
“How? Bake me an apple pie?”
“Matthew, have you ever made it with two women?”
Mela chuckled. “I’ll mark that as a no. Anyway, I was rear-ended at a stoplight today.”
“Were you hurt?” If she can’t perform in bed, I’ll have to look elsewhere for my fun.
“A taillight broken, a corner dented a little. Three hundred total, we figure. But the driver doesn’t want me to file a claim.”
“We’re working out how she’s going to pay for it out of her own pocket, I ask her, small talk, what she does for a living. Turns out Shirley works for an escort service, and today’s her day off.”
“She admitted this to a total stranger?”
“She said she’s an actress/model. In Washington, D.C.? I said, `You’re a call girl.’ `An escort,’ she said, `I sleep only with men I like.’”
“So how does this lead to sex with two women?”
“She offered herself as my indentured servant until midnight, if I’d forgive the three hundred.”
“Does she know the ice-cube trick?”
“Come over and I’ll teach her.” After Matt made no reply, Mela said, “Let me mention she’s a blue-eyed blonde, with legs and tits out to here. Like me, but for hair and nails.”
Matt smiled. “You two would look hot together—”
“Sorry, no lesbian—”
“But it’s no go.”
“Why? Your car in the shop?”
“No, you called too late. I’m taking Barbara to see Endless Circle.”
Now the scornful laugh was Mela’s. “Aren’t you the tame little hubby tonight.”
“I haven’t taken her anywhere in months.”
“Then you best hope she thanks you with a threesome, or at least sucks you off on the drive home.”
“She did promise something great, yes.”
“This is absurd. I refuse to accept it. I’m offering you two women. Two nimble, big-breasted, unwrinkled beauties for your sexual delight—and you’re turning us down for Barbara.”
His teeth were clenched: “I promised her.”
“You’re a politician, what’s another broken promise? Imagine, two women.”
“Barbara deserves a reward. Do you take my suit to the cleaners and pick it up an hour later?”
“Does she know the ice-cube trick? Is she twenty-seven? Two women, imagine.”
“My grandmother told me once, `I don’t regret the things I did, nearly so much as I regret the things I didn’t do.’ Two women.”
He’d be damned if he let her know he was wavering. “What will you do if I turn down your offer?”
“Shirley still stays here, and I call someone else. Maybe Wendall Harland, hmm? Maybe I’ll break out my little black book. But such a pity you’ll miss out, when you have the unique advantage.”
“That jacket. Shirley says men in leather excite her.”
Downstairs a few minutes later, Matt had fetched the bomber jacket from the hall closet. Now he was explaining to Barbara, “…That call I took was from some local electricians’ union pooh-bah from San Jose. See, Mike’s in town overnight and wants me to meet with him before he flies—”
“You’ll be out late,” Barbara said. “I won’t wait up.”
No argument, no calling me a liar? Matt’s back muscles relaxed. Tone of Voice Four (Penitent/Regretful): “I’m really sorry about the movie. You know I love you, but I need to run.”
A few seconds later, Barbara heard Matt shut the front door. Wherever he was going, it wasn’t to meet with any man—Matt was almost dancing with excitement but trying to hide it.
Barbara realized she’d again played his game of “Let’s Pretend.” Let’s pretend I value my marriage to Barbara. Let’s pretend I’m not fooling around. Let’s pretend that when I’m out late, I’m working. Barbara asked herself, Am I devoted and patient, or just stupid?
The hell with him, Barbara thought, I’m going to the movie without him. Wonder if Tiffani’s seen it?
But before Barbara could leave for her movie, she’d promised to call Carol at the newspaper.
Barbara didn’t tell Carol about Matt’s latest stunt, because Barbara knew what Carol would say. Instead, Barbara said, “Before I forget: Call me Saturday for an update. The Canadian ambassador is throwing a party tomorrow night, and many joint-committee senators will be there.”
Computer keys clacked, then Carol said, “Good, more column inches under my byline. Thanks. As for the treaty, what do you think?”
“My mother thinks it’s wonderful. Please don’t print that.”
“No problem. But what do you think about it?”
“This treaty is wrong. It would overturn our lives, we Californians, but we didn’t ask for it—that’s wrong.”
“May I quote you on that?”
“Why? Nobody wants to read what a senator’s wife thinks. Besides, in a month this treaty will be trivia.”
All this was fodder for the comedians. In Los Angeles, the Variety-Show Host joked—
The nation’s unemployment rate is 9.6 percent this month, but some folks are still hiring. A lady in Laguna Beach added three people to her business, which prints cardboard “Will Work for Food” signs. One good part about this high unemployment: We’ll save trees printing fewer income-tax forms next year.
In other news, the president today handed to the Senate a treaty that would sell California to Japan. One change this would mean: Occidental Petroleum and Six Flags Magic Mountain would need to change their names.
California has earthquakes, it has smog, it has crowding and it has traffic jams. No wonder the Japanese want California—it reminds them of home.
Sun Rising In The West: Does Japan Buy California?—buy the book!