EVERYTHING TO LOSE
The woman in the sunburst yellow dress settled behind a small boy who stood between his parents in the front row. In her carefully chosen spot, she would have no problem seeing the senator. More important, he would be able to see her.
Following the presidential candidate’s schedule occupied most of her time. She knew him, and his routines. He was a clever politician, a clever man. At one time, she admired that about him. In spite of his womanizing history, she’d held him in high esteem. She hadn’t cared about the rumors of his less-than-ethical political acumen. He was bright and confident. Like her, he knew what he wanted and achieved it. The one thing he lacked was loyalty. That was his one unforgivable flaw.
A momentary stab of rejection cut through her as crushing memories of betrayal clamored to the forefront of her mind. Another staunch memory held them at bay, protecting her as always from thoughts that could leave her filled with rage or shattered from distress. I did what I had to. He gave me no choice.
Rows of supporters without access to the ticket-only event stood shoulder to shoulder, necks stretched and ready for a coveted glimpse of the man who could be the next president of the United States. Young and old mingled together, most dressed in patriotic colors and wearing Grayson for President buttons. Tabloid reporters and photographers took strategic positions at the iron-gated entrance to the prestigious institution.
The mainstream press had already set up their sound and video equipment on Columbia University’s south lawn. Amsterdam Avenue was closed for two blocks north and south of 116th street. With the absence of thru traffic, the cacophony of city activity hummed in the distance. Escalating murmurs obscured the honking horns, worn, grinding transmissions, and truck trailers loaded with goods booming as they slammed into the streets’ deep potholes. Area residents, intent on going elsewhere, glanced at the restless group and at the clouded sky. Briefcases and umbrellas in hand, they hurried to subway stations or Columbus Ave to hail a cab.
She’d been waiting for the event to begin since spectators and press had started to arrive. Turning toward the reporters at the campus entrance, she caught a brief glance from one of them. She almost shook her head in reproof when he gave her a slight nod. Instead, she ignored his acknowledgement and vowed not to look his way again.
She checked her phone for the time. It was still early, but she could be patient. Another half hour was nothing compared to the years she’d waited for what she deserved or rather, what he deserved.
As if on cue, stubborn puffs overhead gave way to a glorious blue sky on the warm August afternoon. Mounting shouts and whistles alerted all to the arrival of a line of black vehicles crawling at the curb north of the entrance. Men and women clothed in dark suits, more apt for a funeral than a summer outdoor event, exited onto the street. With serious faces, they scrambled to organize their positions before the guest of honor emerged. By all the staff and security Senator Grayson utilized, one would think he’d already won the election. Some criticized his self-importance. Those who knew him well commended his prudence.
All who gathered cheered as presidential candidate Senator Todd Grayson exited one of the limousines. Skilled at working a crowd to his full advantage, Grayson took his time. Straightening to his full height, he smoothed the jacket of his lightweight, ivory linen suit. He looked like a white knight among his entourage of black-clad minions. He faced the street audience, threw up his hands, and waved.
A mass of hand-held banners and American flags flapped like a flock of gulls vying for a prized clam. Classically tall, dark, and handsome, he had as many men fawning over him as he had women. Not since JFK had a presidential candidate charmed a constituency as Grayson had.
Grayson’s staff paved the way for him to enter the campus, shielding him from direct contact with those crammed behind the barricades. In a move that was either spontaneous or a well-contrived plan, the senator turned and walked in the opposite direction and began to shake peoples’ hands. The crowd went wild with whoops and shouts for attention. Surrounded by his campaign staff, his personal counsel Douglas Cain, and his bodyguards, he navigated among potential voters like a rock star.
Grayson stretched over the wooden barriers grasping as many hands as he could. Men removed their caps in respect, nodded, and returned strong, steady shakes. Women squealed and clapped, some patting their beating hearts as if they might swoon. His broad smile bared perfect white teeth that contrasted with his golden skin. Grayson’s careful choice of attire, including the pale blue shirt and tie, conveyed the tranquility of sand and sea. You could hear sighs of contentment at Grayson’s touch.
As president, Todd Grayson would take care of you.
He moved to the end of the narrow walk and back again toward the campus, scanning the adoring crowd. Grayson slowed when he noticed a woman who appeared oblivious to the lively throng surrounding her. She stood still but for a subtle bob and sway, like a buoy when bumped by gentle ocean swells. Tall, with shoulder-length blonde hair, her bright yellow, sleeveless dress set her apart from all the red, white, and blue. Her white designer handbag hung on her shoulder and she clasped her hands low in front of her. Grayson watched her lift her hand to adjust her dark sunglasses. Sharp and adept at reading people, her stance unnerved him. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he sensed her stare. He would have thought she was blind except her head turned to follow his movement.
Douglas Cain nudged the senator’s arm, breaking the connection with the woman. “We need to move along, Senator, if we want to keep to the schedule.”
“I know, Douglas, but this is as important as a stump speech,” Grayson said, his practiced smile never leaving his face.
Cain had been with Todd Grayson from the start of the senator’s venture into politics. With Grayson’s reputation and past, his lawyer’s presence at all functions was paramount. About to enter the campus, where another group awaited the senator’s appearance, one of the tabloid reporters caught Grayson’s attention.
“Senator, you look well rested from your vacation in the Hamptons. What is your response to some of the negative pushback by your opponent regarding your position on defense spending?”
Grayson glanced at the reporter’s nametag. “Tom, it’s not my policy to waste time on the defensive—at least not until the debates. I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done, and that’s to present my ideas directly to the people. It’s the folks’ opinions that count.”
Those standing nearby nodded and applauded their approval. Before Grayson could turn away, the reporter asked another question. “Senator, is it true that you were involved with call girl Sheila Rand and a prime suspect in her murder?”
Grayson did not move. The rapid blinking of his eyes as he processed the question was the only indication he had not turned to stone. Sheila Rand.
He had not thought of the woman for sixteen years. It was true they’d had a brief affair, but he’d had an alibi for when she was murdered. Cain had taken care of it. He’d taken care of that and another matter.
A moment of recognition flashed through the senator’s mind. He whipped his head toward the woman in the yellow dress. A stream of perspiration dripped down his face as he desperately searched the crowd. Where is she? Was it her?
“Senator?” the reporter prompted Grayson.
Grayson eyed the reporter. Cain moved in to stand between them, but Grayson refused to be intimidated. He grinned.
“Tom, you need to check your facts before you ask questions that make you look foolish. I have nothing to hide. Sorry but, I’m on a tight schedule,” he said and allowed Cain to guide him away.
A grin still pasted to his face, Grayson’s thoughts swam with dredged-up memories of the past. His chest filled with anxiety. He couldn’t breathe. Grayson was drowning in thoughts of all that could go wrong. He looked at Cain, his protector—his life preserver. He exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. The lawyer would deal with any fallout. That was his job.
Grayson shook off his concern and strode through the university’s gate to where he would give a rousing speech. Excited college students and faculty packed the stands. They applauded as he stepped to the podium. Another stage. Another performance. Everyone quieted and Grayson began the prepared rhetoric he knew would raise spirits and hopes. That was his job.
As his popularity tide rose, Senator Todd Grayson glided into the hearts and minds of those who would elect him to the most powerful position in the world. It would be smooth sailing, unless the long-ago matter of a murdered call girl surfaced and dragged his political career into a maelstrom of disaster.