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The Poet, The Politician, and The Prostitute
A light snow was falling as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street. Digesting the infamous Belly Buster Burger was trouble enough, but Tim’s betrayal was impossible to swallow. Tim had kept Charlie’s father, Charles Sr., in the senate since the eighties. He was crucial in the transition to Charlie. Now, in an election year, the very man who got him to office in the first place was going to be working for his opponent, Chad Bunker.
He shuffled along the sidewalk, not sure what to do next. His eye caught a flyer stapled to a telephone pole.
A Poetry Reading by Dylan Roberts.
Charlie entered The Guzzler. The bar and bar stools lined one wall like a wooden spine. There was barely enough room to walk past them. Scribbles and splotches that claimed to be art hung on the other wall. A raised platform and a microphone sat just before the bathrooms. A kid with a shaggy beard and shaggier sweater sat on a stool, snapping his fingers.
The bar’s patrons snapped their fingers. “Thank you. That one was called ‘Politician’. That wraps up tonight’s show, thanks for coming. Next week, I’ll read from my new collection, ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword –and Other Phallic Metaphors’.”
Charlie knew he had found the new voice of his campaign. It was unconventional, youthful, contrary to the standard. He approached the young man.
“You’ve got quite the gift there son.”
“Thanks. It’s something to do on the side.”
“How’d you like to do it full time?”
“Excuse me? I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”
“Charlie Rearden. Senator, Charlie Rearden.”
“Ah. Thanks for the offer, but no thanks. I’m not going to be some politician’s pet project. Thanks for your interest in the arts, but I’ll find my own way.”
“I don’t care about the arts. I want to offer you a job on my staff. I want you to run my re-election campaign.”
“You must be crazy. You don’t even know me. Why would I want to do that? No offense, but you’re ‘the man’, man. You can’t buy me “
“I am a little crazy, but sometimes that’s what it takes in this town. Before I came in here tonight, I was out of ideas, looking at a bleak future. Then, I stumbled across this bar and found you, Mr. Roberts, and I don’t take chance meetings lightly. I’ll give you complete artistic freedom in this thing. See it as a piece of art. You can express our platform in any way you see fit. I’m giving you the opportunity to revolutionize the way a campaign looks and feels.”
“You’ve got me interested. What’s the catch?”
“I have no cash to pay you. However, if you get me re-elected, I promise that the world will know who you are.”
Charlie saw a flicker in Dylan’s eye.
“I hope I don’t regret this.” Dylan extended his hand and Charlie took it.
Charlie loved every aspect of the Minnesota State Fair: the oppressive heat, the smorgasbord of aromas wafting through the air, and the sheer strangeness of some of his constituents. He had just finished a conversation with a man in a sports bra about the lack of protection for transgender farmers in rural America.
The whole vibe was so different from last year. The day started with a flash mob in front of his booth, doing a dance to ‘Gimme Some Loving’. He was sporting a t-shirt and shorts instead of a suit coat.
Dylan’s fresh ideas and artistic genius were paying off immensely. He had a double-digit lead over Bunker in the polls.
He saw Dylan waving at him, trying to get his attention. He wormed through the crowds to see what he needed.
“Charlie, we’ve got a problem.”
“The Bunker campaign is accusing you of using public funds to support a Mexican drug cartel.”
“What! That’s outrageous. I’d never do that.”
“Well, you did. It’s messy but that research team is ruthless. They’ve connected the alternative medicine bill you wrote to a marijuana field in Colorado. The operation itself is clean. However, the owner’s brother-in-law has a small ownership stake in the company. He’s just been picked up by the Feds smuggling cocaine across the Texas border.”
“Crap. What’s the plan for damage control?”
“I think we should embrace the allegation. We can do a short film where you hit a bong and munch on a burrito with some drug lords, sort of make fun of the whole thing. It’ll be viral by midnight.”
“Set it up. But, they’ve crossed the line and we’ve got to fire back. We need to teach them a lesson. Let’s show them we can play the scandal game too, except that we’re better.”
Dylan grimaced. “Charlie, we don’t need to stoop to their level. I’m also not going to make something up. I might do fiction, but I don’t lie.”
“I’m not asking you to. Bunker has some dirt on him. Every politician does. He may appear to be an upright Lutheran but there are skeletons somewhere. If we do this right, no one will mess with us.” Charlie pulled a card out from his wallet.
“There’s a woman that meets every politician when they first get elected. If anyone knows anything, she will.”
Dylan knocked on the door of room 1776. A woman draped in a green robe opened the door, a cigarette in one hand and the latest issue of US Weekly in the other.
“Call me Libby. Come on in sugar.”
Dylan walked into the apartment. Everything in the room imitated refinement. The sofas were faux leather. The art on the walls were just prints. Vases that appeared to be gold or silver were plastic. Libby’s emerald robe parted just enough to highlight her enhanced bosom.
Dylan sat on the sofa as Libby prepared a cocktail. A reality show blared on the plasma television. He thought about how many viewers voted in the show and how that compared to the upcoming election. Maybe he could get Charlie to perform something in front of America.
“What can I do for you today?” Libby slid her hand along Dylan’s inner thigh, long nails decorated with stars and stripes.
“I’m only here to try to get some information.”
“That’s too bad.” Libby pouted. “You’re pretty cute.”
“What do you know about Chad Bunker?”
“He’s a brilliant politician. He served as the governor of Minnesota. He’s a staunch republican. He’s tight morally and physically. He’s headstrong and likes to intimidate people. He made his fortunes in fertilizer. Who would have guessed that manure from male cows provides ten percent better crop yields than mixed? The man made millions selling bull crap.”
“Right, but I’m look for something that isn’t common knowledge.”
“Suppose I did know something, why should I tell you? You’re not the first bloke to come around here hoping to get some dirt on somebody. What’s in it for me?” Libby winked as she wrapped plump lips around her straw.
“Freedom. While keeping secrets might be lucrative for you, the stress must be awful. You have to watch what you say all the time. You have to be careful about who you are seen with, where you go, and at what times. You might think that you have the upper hand with these guys, that once you get them in your fingers you can control them like little puppets. The truth is you are the one being controlled. They know you won’t come forward with your information because then you’d lose your business. They’ve spoiled you with gifts and handouts. In return, they’ve made you dependent on them. Sure, you might cause some waves, but they’ll dismiss you as a delusional street worker looking for fame. Then they’ll move to another source of parted legs.”
Libby took a few long draws on her cigarette. She stared at Dylan, her bare foot tapping against her leg. A lone tear jeweled the corner of her eye.
“It’s not lucrative. They do seduce you with their gifts, which they probably got from some schmuck trying to win their support. Then they never pay. They offer promises, and even then, they rarely follow through on them. Out there, it’s screw or be screwed. I’ve been telling myself that I’ve been the one doing the screwing, but they’ve been getting their way for years. “
“So what have you got?”
“Bunker’s got a bastard son.”
Dylan jolted to the front of the couch.
“Back in the early eighties, he wanted to run for state senate. He was in Washington and Lenny Bushman, from Texas, slipped him my card. I was just getting started then, and was foolish about birth control. When he found out, he pleaded with me not to have an abortion. If the news ever leaked, he’d lose his pro-life backers. I agreed to have the kid, but I wasn’t going to raise him. In exchange for staying out of Washington, he got Charles Rearden Sr. to adopt his kid.”
“Bunker is Charlie’s real father?”
“You got it.”
Charlie sat on a bench and watched the bong-hit video on his phone. With over 3 million views, Dylan had triumphed yet again. The young man could not only run with the best, he was barely working up a sweat while they could barely catch their breath.
The approaching slap of Dylan’s flip-flops caught Charlie’s attention.
“Well, what did you find out?”
“He’s got a secret son.”
“Whoa. That’s some good dirt right there. You continue to amaze me.”
“Have you ever noticed how much you look like a much younger version of Bunker?”
“Not really. What does that have to do with…wait. No. Are you saying?”
“Yup. He’s your daddy.”
Charlie sat there, staring at the pavement, but not seeing it. Thoughts buzzed in his head like a cloud of gnats, but he couldn’t focus on any single one. He felt a twinge in his stomach. He looked up at Dylan.
“You’re sure?” His voice was a whispered plea. He didn’t need to hear Dylan’s response. Something deep inside him affirmed the truth. He wanted a drink. Something strong. There was only one question needing to be answered.
“What do we do now?”
Dylan sat on the bench. He put his arm around Charlie.
“The timing couldn’t be any better. Next week you have a debate in Iowa, and the crowd there is completely pro-life. Abortion is bound to come up. Everyone thinks you’re going to fail there since you are more liberal when it comes to medical practices. All you have to do is let Bunker get all self righteous about valuing life. Then chime in about how grateful you are that he has that view, otherwise you wouldn’t be here today. Break the news live, and he’ll be so lost he won’t know what to do. Everyone will forget where you stand on the issue, and they’ll be caught up in the family drama. From there, we’re going to run it like a reality TV show.”
Charlie only caught a couple of Dylan’s words, but he trusted that he was safe. Dylan left, and Charlie returned to the bench and tried to make sense of the swarm.
The election was no contest. People almost expect affairs in the political realm, but the denial and blatant neglect of a child sat poorly with voters. Dylan watched the news coverage from his stool at The Guzzler. Charlie had been disappointed but understanding when Dylan expressed a desire return to the humble life of an artist. Just before the coverage ended, Dylan saw a familiar woman in a jade sequin gown whispering into Charlie’s ear.
Dylan tapped on the microphone. “Hello everyone, thanks for coming tonight. I’d like to open with a piece inspired by my time on the campaign trail. I call it The Poet, The Politician, and The Prostitute.”