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"Patriots," The Novel -- Final Installment

Posted: 04/ 8/2012 11:42 am

Huffpost readers have an advance, exclusive peek inside David Frum's much-buzzed-about new Washington political satire, "Patriots" -- the first novel ever serialized on the Huffington Post.

Chapters from the book were posted daily last week, with the final installment today when the full novel is available for downloading (it will be available in paperback form on May 7). You can read Frum on why he decided to write fiction here. For Part One, go here. For Part Two, go here. For Part Three, go here. For Part Four, go here. For Part Five, go here.

~ CHAPTER TEN ~


AS USUAL, TERESA glared balefully at me when I arrived at the office Monday morning. But the other two receptions mustered a pleasant hello. One of them, a perm-haired Providence lady who strewed her desk with Lucite framed photographs of her cats, said, "Daphne wants to see you straightaway."

I poked my head into Daphne's office, and she beckoned me in. "I've reassigned you. I'm pulling you off mail duty. You'll have more of a personal assistant role: a body man. You'll accompany the senator to his meetings, serve his personal needs."

That sounded like more work than I'd signed up for. "Are you sure the senator would want that?" I asked, looking for an exit from the situation.

"He needs the help. You'll move your work area too -- you'll sit at Kimberly's desk in the senator's vestibule."

As I think I mentioned, the senator's private office had two entries. One, the more formal, faced the little hallway onto which Daphne's own door opened. But there was another entrance as well, which opened directly onto the building's main exterior corridor. From the corridor, this discreet secondary entrance to the senator's sanctum looked like it might lead to a utility closet. Unlock the handle from the corridor, and you'd enter a little vestibule containing one small desk shoved against the wall to your left hand side. Beyond that: the senator himself.

That vestibule desk had belonged to the senator's scheduler, the just-mentioned Kimberly. Daphne led me over to take a look.

"So long as Kimberly sat here," she said, "every scheduling decision turned into a conference call. So I'm giving Kimberly your old desk, and putting you here instead."

At that moment, the secondary door opened, and in entered the senator himself, looking very old and worn. As he surveyed the unexpected crowd in his vestibule, the stooped frame straightened and a look of annoyance flashed across his face. Suddenly you could see in the face of the white-haired old man the face of the tough scholarship boy from South Providence.

"Hello Senator," cooed Daphne. "Welcome back, sir! I hope the flight was not too demanding." Hazen had just returned from a two-week congressional delegation to the Far East during the post-election recess.

"Where the hell is Kimberly?"

"Well sir, while you were away, I've developed some options so that we can do a better job of supporting you. We've had some unacceptable mix-ups lately. Remember the miscommunication that sent you and Senator Hamill to each other's donor appreciation events before the recess? I thought we'd do better if Kimberly worked directly alongside political and media staff -- and then if we got you a personal assistant who could ensure you get where you need to be."

"Him?" demanded the senator, jerking a thumb at me.

"Sir, this is Walter Schotzke. You remember you asked me to find a role for him?"

His expression changed from scowl to sunshine.

"Why didn't you say it was Walter from the start?"

He grasped my hand with both of his. "How wonderful to see you! When did I see you last? -- let me think. Ten years ago?"

"Longer than that sir, I'm afraid."

"Well don't remind me. I know it's been kind of a bumpy ride for you since then, but I'm delighted you've joined our team. Now look, I need some time to get settled, but I'll buzz you shortly, and we'll have a talk."

Daphne moved to enter with the senator. He raised a hand to hold her at bay. "Just a few minutes to myself."

Daphne mobilized a little smile. "Of course."

I spent the next couple of hours on Facebook debating "Which is the best single malt?" About 10:30 AM, my desk phone rang.

"Walter, will you run down to the cafeteria, get me a glass of buttermilk and some arrowroot biscuits please?"

The senator had been saved from stomach cancer, but the chemo and surgery had wrecked his digestion. Over the next weeks, I'd become very, very familiar with his joke that the recovery had condemned him to "the diet of a three-year-old."

Fifteen minutes later, I was standing at the senator's sideboard, pouring the thick liquid into a glass stamped with the Great Seal of the United States. I spread the biscuits upon a similarly decorated small plate. I unfolded a purloined white cloth atop the senator's leather blotter, and placed plate and glass on the senator's desk. Eduardo could not have done better.

The senator looked downward at the place setting, then up at me, visibly pleased. He motioned me to sit in one of the visitor chairs opposite.

What a room!

High windows looked westward out Constitution Avenue toward the Washington Monument. A large antique map of Narragansett Bay dominated the wall behind the senator's desk. On the opposite wall (the wall pierced by the doorway to my vestibule), hung an old oil portrait of Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island colony. In the center of the room were arranged a couch, a coffee table, and two comfortable armchairs. Just behind the couch, there stood a wooden case, the sort of case in which a library would display an ancient manuscript.

Later, the senator would guide me through the contents of the case: an ancient edition of Roger Williams' book on Indian languages; state bonds to finance the Revolutionary war; scrimshaw carved by whalers; a cap and the belt buckles that had belonged to a private soldier from Rhode Island's Civil War second infantry regiment; the senator's father's Jewish prayer shawl; a pocket watch engraved for presentation to Oliver Wendell Holmes; a fountain pen that had belonged to Chaim Weizmann; a handwritten letter to Hazen from one of his senatorial predecessors, thanking Hazen for his hard work on the campaign of 1976.

Affixed to the wall perforated by the door toward Daphne's office were four tall dark-wooden cases, jammed with law books, books about Rhode Island, histories of the Senate, biographies of presidents, a history of Brown University. Three linear feet of novels in German occupied the lowest shelf of the remotest case.

This, I thought, was the room of a man who knew where he came from. Where did I come from?
I remembered once having dinner with an aunt of a previous girlfriend, a prim schoolteacher type, who informed me, "You come from money, Walter."

She was right too. I was born in Brussels, attended eight different schools in Britain and the United States, then Brown (the only college that would have me). I had spent my summers all over the world: camps, other people's houses and yachts, Europe, New York. Money was my hometown.

"So I hear nothing good about you for a decade or more," said the senator good-humoredly. "Now Daphne can't praise you enough. She's not an easy person to impress, as you probably have discovered. I'm very glad if you have found your footing here. I greatly indebted to your family."

"Paid in full, sir."

He didn't laugh, but he made a small noise in his throat and bared a mouthful of yellowed but healthy-looking teeth.

"I'm serious. Your grandfather trusted me to negotiate the merger with General Brands. Not many men in a situation like that would give the chance to their regular lawyer. I got your family a very good deal from GB -- a very good deal -- but for me, it was the chance of a lifetime. That chance let me do politics, and ultimately brought me here."

He dipped a biscuit in the milk and chewed purposefully.

"And your father -- what an amazing man your father was!"

Another bite of biscuit.

"It must be a lot to live up to."

"Well sir ... I don't know what to say to that. I suppose my grandmother would say that I am not living up to it very well."

"I don't know. Maybe you're just getting revved up. Some people start faster than others, that's all."

The senator leaned into the desk. "Did you know I was at the ceremony at Langley to honor your father? The Distinguished Intelligence Cross: It's the Congressional Medal of Honor for spies."

"I don't know who was there, other than my grandparents. Mom wasn't invited, and so she didn't allow me to go either. I've never even seen the citation."

"The citation is still secret. Parts of the Middle East network your father built are probably still operating. But the information your father brought out of the Gulf saved hundreds of American lives. He was not just a great businessman, he was a true American hero."

"My grandmother still has boxes full of the Business Week with him on the cover."

"Your father deserved that cover. Almost all the company's growth in the 1980s and 1990s came from your father's work in Europe, Asia and the Middle East."

"When I once met the CEO of General Brands," I said, "he told me that GB bought the Schotzke company as much to get my dad as to get the mustard."

The senator nodded. He'd heard that too I supposed. He thought for a moment, and then added, "But running a company and a clandestine intelligence-gathering operation at the same time? That would demand a lot from a man. I suppose that explains some of the troubles at home."

Now it was my turn to think of what to say. But what? In almost all of my memories of my dad, he was saying goodbye. Somehow I could never remember the hellos. I can still see that last wave as my dad stepped into the back of the limo, already talking on his cell phone, when he drive away after his last school visit. He'd driven me down to London for a birthday lunch at Simpsons-on-the-Strand. It's not a subject I usually liked to talk about. But for some reason I couldn't quite explain, I liked talking to Hazen.

"It wasn't just the divorce," I began. "It was what happened after. Everything was already finalized between my parents when dad was kidnapped. My mom had been unhappy in the marriage for a long time. She'd moved to London, she was onto her new life. She didn't see why she should go into hiding because her ex-husband had been grabbed by some Islamo-crazies. But my grandmother -- oh God, you'd think Mom had planned the kidnapping herself. Even now, if I ever mention my mother's name ..."

"Yes, I can imagine." His eyes showed sympathy.

"And then after Dad was killed, Mom got wilder and wilder. It was like the whole world was scowling at her, not just Grandma. Here's this American hero murdered. While he was being tortured, his ex-wife is being photographed in clubs dancing with pop stars. Of course, Mom didn't have any idea of what the terrorists were doing to dad. My grandparents blamed her anyway. They blamed me too."

"You?"

"I was in one of the paparazzi photographs, the one on that Silicon Valley guy's yacht, with my mother in the bikini."

"I remember the picture. Your mother was an amazingly beautiful woman. Maybe she should have stayed in Hollywood. Things might have been better for her."

"Hard to see how they could have been worse. All those pictures from yachts and nightclubs and ski slopes, they never come with a disclaimer that she had no idea of what was happening to Dad. Everybody told her he was fine, that the company was negotiating a ransom, that he was sure to be released. She didn't know the truth!"

But that wasn't quite true either, was it? She had to have known something -- not the whole truth, maybe, but something. And it wasn't just Dad she was done with. It was me too. If she didn't arrive late on visiting days, she was leaving early, if she didn't forget altogether. I was that kid at the school whose mother was never there on the prize days -- not that I ever won a prize. And then she was gone too, as vanished as the smell of her perfume, not even a body to bury.

All this I didn't say to Senator Hazen, who was still nodding compassionately. "No," he agreed. "How could she have known?"

"After that, Mom went into overdrive. You know the whole story: the big lawsuit over the will, the drugs, the plane crash."

"That idiot. Bad enough he got himself killed. But to take your mother with him! How old were you?"

"Thirteen."

Six weeks later, I'd been expelled from my English school. My grandparents found a new place to park me, then another, and then another after that. Charlie Feltrini was the only friend I made in all those miserable years. Charlie -- and whoever was selling me my marijuana that semester.

"I wish--" Hazen was speaking again. "Well, I don't know what I wish. But I'm sorry."

I rose to put away the glass and plate. "Thank you." I meant it. "I truly appreciate this opportunity. I'll try not to mess up."

I meant that too.

 
 
 

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