Douglas followed Paddy into the elevator that was guarded by two massive men in blue blazers. They stood on either side of the elevator as if they were bored, but Douglas suspected that they were a lot more alert than they appeared. Paddy pushed the elevator button marked 1, and the elevator began ascending. A few second later, they were on the main level of the Sam Rayburn House Office Building.
“Welcome to your home away from home for the next two years,” Paddy said to Douglas as they walked. “There are underground tunnels from here to the Capital building so that you can come and go without having to be seen on the street. As you can see,” he said, as they stepped through a doorway and were immediately confronted by three more guards and a metal detector entryway. Paddy showed the guards his identification, but Douglas didn’t have his yet.
“New congressman from the State of Nevada,” Paddy said to them officially. “Meet Douglas Washington.”
The guards were cordial as they realized that they were dealing with a congressman.
“Sorry, Sir. You’ll need to go to the main security office here on first floor as soon as you can. Thank you, sir.”
“I don’t think I have been called sir so many times in one day in my entire life,” muttered Douglas as they walked down the hallway.
“Don’t worry about security,” Paddy said. “Erma’s got it taken care of.”
“Your office assistant.”
“I thought you were my office assistant.”
Paddy shook his head. “I wish. I’m the intern. I do what I am told, just about anything from getting coffee to walking your dog. Do you have a dog, sir?”
“Well, if you had a dog, I could take care of it for you. Erma, on the other hand, runs your office. She screens visitors, keeps your schedule, makes travel arrangements, and in a pinch can do some politicking of her own. She’s really, really good at what she does.”
Douglas looked at the spacious offices they passed as they walked briskly down the hall. Staff members passed by them, doing a variety of errands for the representatives, who for the most part, were in session across the street.
“If she’s so good, how come she’s not working with one of the established representatives? I mean, she could be part of a big staff here.”
“Erma’s worked here for close to 20 years, and served on staff for some of the major representatives. But she does her best work with a smaller staff, or so she says. And there are other things, some which will be pretty obvious when you meet her.”
“Other things?” Douglas repeated.
Paddy stopped at the end of the hall before the doorway to a stairwell and turned to Douglas. “I think it’s better that you meet her and make your own decisions. After all, I am just an intern here. And I would like to continue being an intern as long as I can.”
Douglas stared at Paddy. “Aren’t I the one who does the hiring and firing?”
Paddy smiled at Douglas and shook a finger. “Did you hire me?”
Douglas looked at Paddy, thinking, as he stomped down the stairs. “Where are you going?”
“Down to your office,” Paddy said, already out of sight down the stairs.
“Where is it? In the sub-basement?” Douglas followed Paddy down three flights of stairs to the bottom of the stairwell.
“This is where they put all freshmen congressmen,” Paddy said. “The concept of working your way up is taken very literally here.”
Douglas followed Paddy down the narrow hallway of a set of offices. The lights had changed from the cheery incandescent lights and sunlight on a golden brown carpet and beige walls to a dim fluorescent glow on a dingy red carpet with white walls that looked like they hadn’t been painted in years.
Paddy led Douglas to the last door on the hallway and opened it. Inside a woman in her late 40s sat at the front desk on the phone. A young man of about 20 sat in a wooden chair on the other side, his hands folded politely in his lap. He turned and looked at Douglas as they entered, but made no move to get up.
“Erma, this is….” Paddy said, but stopped when Erma’s index finger as she kept talking on the phone. Paddy looked embarrassed by the interruption, but Douglas found it amusing.
“No, Beatrice, that is not acceptable,” she was saying. “I understand that he is only a freshman representative, but he is an elected official from the state of Nevada, one of the few states that you can remind the President and his staff that they did not carry in the last election. If the President wants to start off on the right foot, then tell him that he needs to take his representatives seriously. And it starts with seating.” Pause. “Yes, that will do. Thank you, Beatrice, you are a jewel.” She hung the receiver up and turned to Paddy and Douglas.
“You have seats at the President’s table for the congressional ball next month,” Erma said, matter of factly to Douglas.
“I do? That’s good,” Douglas said quietly.
Paddy stepped forward. “Erma, this is….”
“Douglas Washington, I think that’s pretty obvious, Paddy,” she said, reaching into a drawer and pulling out a sheet on a clipboard. “I work best if I have personal information on you, sir. Please fill this out as soon as you can and return it to me.”
Douglas reached out and took the clipboard. “OK, I see I have homework already, and I haven’t even been in session yet.”
“Oh, and sir, Representative Doyle is expecting you in his office at 3 this afternoon. In the meantime, he has sent over three bills for your review before tomorrow. I have taken the liberty of scanning them and putting them in PDF format on your laptop in your office. Perhaps I should ask, do you prefer to read on paper or screen?
Douglas shrugged. “Screen is OK. Coffee?”
“I can have any coffee you want here within two minutes. Your preferences are part of the checklist I gave you on the clipboard.”
“In the meantime, just get me some good old black coffee, please.”
Erma nodded, then turned to Paddy. He stared at them, absentmindedly, then nodded.
“Back in a jif,” he said, and disappeared out the doorway.
Douglas turned and looked at the young man who sat in the chair, expectantly. Then he turned back to Erma, and raised an eyebrow.
“I normally let our freshmen congressmen get used to their offices and their workload before I allow visitors in here,” she said, turning to the young man. “But this is a special case. I think you will want to meet with this young man.”
Douglas looked at the young man and shrugged. He stepped forward and held out his hand.
“Douglas Washington. How can I help you?”
The man leaped up as if he had sat on a tack.
“My name is Vasily Dubrovik,” he said with a thick accent. “I have come from St. Petersburg. In Russia.”
“Well, Vasily, you’re a long way from home. Come into my office.”
Douglas led Vasily into the dark office. A motion sensor flicked the lights on as they entered. The office was a lot more plush than the hallway or even the reception area outside. Douglas saw to a wraparound curved blonde-wood desk with a overstuffed red leather chair behind it. Opposite the desk stood a matching couch and coffee table.
“Well, apparently I have a nice office,” he said to Vasily. “Let’s sit down at the couch.” As they sat down, Paddy returned with coffee for both Douglas and his visitor.
“Tell me how I can help you,” repeated Douglas, who looked closely at the nervous boy. Medium tall and thin, Vasily had sandy brown hair and an angular face. But his eyes somehow looked familiar to Douglas.
“My mother’s name is Dubrovik, and for reasons that will become apparent, I have taken her name. But I was born with the name Harris Borden Junior.”
The name hit Douglas like a landslide. Fortunately, the young man paused long enough for Douglas to regain his composure.
“I understand that you have had contact with my father since his first imprisonment,” Vasily said.
“I…I had contact…yes. I did talk to him a couple of times before he was recaptured. I had some contact with the Heretics about the same time. But that was 12 years ago. Lots has changed since then.”
“I want you to help me find my father. I want to get him pardoned by the president.”
Douglas watched the young man in silence, finally speaking.
“That’s a pretty big goal. You think because I knew your father and that I am now a congressman, it is automatic that I can do these things?”
“You owe my father. I know that.”
Douglas paused, looking at the young man.
“I owe your father a lot. But there’s no evidence that he is even alive. In fact, all indications are that he isn’t.”
“So you’re not going to even try?”
Douglas shook his head. “I didn’t say that. You need to learn a little patience, Vasily.”
“I have been patient for 19 years. I have never seen my father. I have only heard stories, lots of stories. And now I know someone who is part of the government that has him imprisoned. Please. Help me. Help him.”
Douglas paused again, trying to find a way out of this mess.
“Look, Vasily,” he said. “And for your safety and mine, I think we should continue calling you by that name. Look, I will do what I can. But you have to understand that this is my first day on the job. I am the lowest elected official in this anthill called Congress. I don’t even know how things work around here. I will do what I can. But it might—no, will—take a long time.” He frowned and looked at the young man.
“You know what I would do if I were you?” he said finally. “My mother, rest her soul, always told me never to put all of my eggs in one basket. Do you know what that means?”
Vasily shook his head.
“It means, you need to be working many different angles on this. I can do what a congressman can do. But that doesn’t mean other people can’t help.” As he spoke, he pulled his briefcase up to his lap and opened it.
“Who do you recommend I talk to about this?” Vasily asked. “It isn’t like I know someone at the New York Times.”
“No, I have someone better in mind,” Douglas said. He handed Vasily a hardbound book entitled, “Redemption.” On the back cover of the book was the photo of a striking blonde woman in her 40s. The name under the photo said Michelle Kinkaid.
“Find her,” Douglas told Vasily. “She will help you.”
Douglas saw Vasily to the door and they shook hands in the outer office. He watched the young man disappear as the phone behind him began to ring.
“Sir,” Erma said behind him. “Your wife is on line two.”
Douglas nodded and walked back into his office to his desk.
“Yes, Melanie,” he said.
“Douglas, I have to fly back to Los Angeles,” she said.
“Today,” she said. “I have some unexpected family business to attend to.”
“Uncle Frank?” he asked.
“Not this time,” she said. “But family business even so.”
Douglas paused, knowing what the phrase “family business” meant. If it didn’t involve Uncle Frank—their code for the Foundation—then he wasn’t sure what she was talking about, But he knew that Melanie—Ruth—could take care of herself.
“When will you be back?”
“Not sure. I will call when I know more.”
Douglas felt a familiar chill come over him, and thought back to their adventures on the streets of San Francisco 12 years ago.
“Be safe,” he said to her.