The Trip to Washington
After dinner on the train, it happened that Cynthia and Bert, left alone by the others, had a quiet talk. The coffee in their cups shook as the train sped over switches and crossings, but Bert sipped away, wiping splashes with his napkin. He seemed perfectly relaxed, not pushy in any way, but communicative. After a bit, he began talking about his wife in a way that was familiar to Cynthia. As with other men, he began by saying admiring things about her, things that it was easy to echo. At one point, she replied, "When we came to your party, Barbara peeked in the window, and said that Joan was the best-looking woman in the room. And she was."
"Yes. I'm fully aware of that, and appreciative, too. But I don't think we're one of the very few couples who only want to be with each other all the time."
"That happens most often with much older couples. They get so inter-dependent that they can't imagine being apart. They sometimes even die in quick succession."
"They'd almost have to. But I don't think Joan expects ultimate intimacy. I'm sure you know by this time that I've had other women, and I don't really think that it bothers Joan a great deal."
"Does she know?"
"I'm sure at some level. And now, there's this bit with Luda."
"She seems to have become something of a member of your household."
"Well, Joan was disappointed when we didn't have children. Luda isn't anyone's idea of a child, but she could certainly use a little of Joan's stability."
"That was my thought when I made Joan her host-parent. How do you find Luda?"
"Frankly, not as thrilling as one might have thought. She's a bit of an automaton. She'll do anything simply because she doesn't care. I don't think she really enjoys life much."
"She was badly damaged psychologically in Russia. I think sex has been her survival mechanism."
"Well, quite apart from host-parenting, Joan wants to help people. She can certainly help Luda."
"So it goes both ways."
"Yes. Joan has superficial problems, but she's good with people with deeper problems."
"So the matter of Luda is settled?"
"I hope she can also be a friend to Senator Munson."
"I didn't know he needed a friend."
"More in the nature of a playmate. She can do what she's used to doing, and, in return, he can be an important friend."
"A job in Washington after she graduates?"
"At the least. There are all kinds of opportunities. In fact, you can get an idea of the proposed environment for your protege if you come with us to the senator's office tomorrow."
"I wouldn't be in the way?"
"Not at all. I can introduce you as a business associate, and you'll lend an aura of respectability to the whole affair."
"Okay. It's always interesting to put a finger in someone else's pie."
"If things work out, it'll be good for both Luda and the Senator."
Cynthia smiled. It certainly wasn't necessary for Bert to know that she, too, wanted Luda to be seen with Senator Munson. Then, it occurred to her that Bert could also convey Luda to Eric and Elsa Sombor. She remarked rather laconically, "There's a group meeting tomorrow night in Washington that might be of interest to both you and Luda."
Bert asked a few questions about the Capitol Couples, and seemed to like the answers. Cynthia had only to caution him, "The rule is that members who aren't present, as I won't be, are never mentioned by name or description. There are important people in the club, sometimes members of congress, and they greatly fear disclosure. Hence the rule. So you'll have to make sure that Luda doesn't mention me or the IRSA."
Bert nodded and agreed. Cynthia was sure that he would make Luda behave. In fact, it seemed that he'd be better than anyone else in controlling her.
Arriving early in Washington, the only restaurant open was a little place just inside the huge ornate entrance to the terminal. The waiter was a bit of a joker, saying, "It don't matter what you order. We mix everything in a big pot, and dish it out."
They did, in fact, order, and, indeed, the different dishes were surprisingly similar. But no one cared. It was exciting to be in Washington!
Amid the euphoria, it did nevertheless seem that Luda made Adam uneasy. It might have been her height, the fact that she was Russian, or the Yezhova name. A whole generation of Russians had feared Yezhov, and, like Cynthia herself, Adam might wonder if there was a connection. In any case, he was very happy to go off with Barbara, Rachel, and Joan to the art museums. Joan seemed happy and relaxed, and, whenever she wasn't under pressure, she was a good conversationalist and companion. Together, she, Rachel, and Barbara would give Adam lots of attention. It wasn't really sex that he needed, just attractive women who would listen when he talked.
After whiling away some time looking at monuments, Bert, Luda, and Cynthia went off to the Senate office building. Senator Munson, as a former North Dakota farmer, started his day early.
While Cynthia had laid some groundwork with Mr. Jamieson, she was glad that she didn't have to use it. Bert, of course, could go right to the senator with no questions asked and no cover story.
As it happened, Mr. Jamieson was in the front office. He recognized Cynthia with enthusiasm. However, he was obviously surprised to see her with Bert, whom he treated with great deference. And, then, when Luda strolled in from the hall, she almost blew him away.
The French had a word for it, a 'coup' something or other. But Cynthia immediately knew what it was. Since Jamieson, for his part, was a very attractive young man in an important position, it was only a question of when and where the two could find some privacy. Perhaps even a large coat closet. Cynthia realized that some readjustment of plans might be required, but, before she could think about it, Bert was introducing her to Senator Munson.
Cynthia's first thought was that she should have been warned. It was true that Bert had told her that the senator was much more sophisticated than he seemed at first meeting. She should hope so! But that wasn't the half of it. A tall rugged-looking man with a very long straight nose, he looked more like a horse than anyone she had ever seen. And then, just as she was managing to force a smile, his voice rocked her back. Of course, one wouldn't really know what a horse would sound like if he, or she, could talk. Anyhow, the voice coming at her was one of the strangest she had heard. She was amazed that anyone who looked like that and sounded like that could be elected to anything. In addition to all this, she quickly became aware that the horse was fixated on her. She felt herself, indeed, to be the mare he wanted to mount.
Fortunately, Bert was carrying on in a normal way. Cynthia was afraid that Luda would screech at the spectacle, but she was looking back over her shoulder. When Luda was introduced, she stood even straighter than usual, with a look of being lined up for the firing squad, but she managed to say the little that was required. Indeed, the senator hardly broke off staring at Cynthia to look at her.
Knowing that one can get used to almost anything, as the senator's staff had obviously done, Cynthia managed a little small talk.
It was odd that the Senator seemed hardly to notice Luda, an accomplishment in itself. In Cynthia's earlier survey of the office, there had been, and still were, girls who were modelish in the way of Luda. Was that not the Senator's taste? But, then, she thought again. It must be Mr. Jamieson who hired the help. He would surely hire Luda, and that would actually be all right. The gossips would associate her with the senator because of her appearance and his history. They wouldn't know that he preferred the Cynthias of the world.
Senator Munson was one who liked to compliment women, rather in the manner of Adam. He didn't tell Cynthia that she reminded him of his first lover back in Minot, North Dakota, but there was a definite hinting that he was still quite a boy, by no means disinterested in the fair sex. As he continued to ignore Luda, Cynthia saw that Bert was worried.
Luda was supposed to be the present, not Cynthia. Moreover, his problem was more severe. He needed Luda, not to just hang around and grace the office, but to get into bed with the old horse-goat. Only then would a favor be owed in return.
For the present, Cynthia handled the compliments much as she would have the ones from Adam. She was the adult and Senator Munson was the child, a little silly perhaps, but cute enough in his way. While this might have counted as encouraging him, she was actually just playing for time.
Suddenly, it was all business. Which was not unnatural in the circumstances. Cynthia had been introduced as a business associate, and Luda was, in theory, a possible apprentice or interne. Senator Munson said, directly to Bert, "Supplying arms directly to these guys is becoming a bad business. Specially when they want highly visible things like helicopters. There are investigative reporters already looking over your shoulder, and I can't be associated with anything like that."
Bert replied, easily, "I was thinking the same thing. Since the downfall of Senator McCarthy, we can't justify things just by pointing to communists behind bushes. But, still, there are murderous rebels out there in the hills."
"I realize that, Bert. Something can be done, but there have to be intermediaries, private companies who can provide security, and whose funds can be tucked into an appropriations bill."
"We're not just talking about bodyguards for El Presidente, are we?"
"Oh no. Much more. It's a question of who and what company."
Bert hesitated briefly, and Cynthia reconstructed things in her mind. He had originally intended exactly what the senator had said was impossible, but had turned on a dime. Which was not to say that he wouldn't turn back when the investigative reporters were bought off or otherwise eliminated. Now, the question was whether he knew a private company which could do the job. He spoke, seemingly hesitantly, "Well, senator, I do happen to know a man who has a small company."
"I thought you would, Bert."
"A former career non-com in the army. In the Korean war, he was so valuable in pulling things together when the Chinese intervened and rolled up our forces that they gave him a battlefield commission. In fact, he was collecting fleeing soldiers and forming them into cohesive units in cases where their own officers had panicked and fled. All this when he himself had a serious head wound."
“An impressive man."
"He was later demoted back to sergeant when he half-killed one of the officers who had abandoned his men."
Senator Munson laughed, and replied, "Let me guess. He shortly thereafter left the army, and, as a kindred spirit, you met him somewhere."
"As it happens, he defeated me in a wrestling tournament. We went out for beers afterwards, and we put together some ideas. He's very bright, and a good organizer."
"I dare say. He musn't come within a mile of this office, but, if you think he can put things together on the required scale, we'll need a cost estimate."
"I'll get right to work on it, senator. We'll call this gentleman, 'Cousin George'.”
Cynthia felt the senator's eyes on her in a different way. He said, "You look as if you're familiar with this sort of thing, Miss Massey."
Cynthia laughed and replied, "I have had some varied experience. Now, among other things, I'm running a refugee student organization. I was actually wondering if a few of my students could be volunteers in your office during the Christmas vacation."
She glanced at Luda as she spoke, and Senator Munson, really taking her in for the first time, smiled broadly and assented. He then invited Cynthia to accompany them to the Senate coffee shop with the words, "I've previously been told of your skill as a speechwriter, Miss Massey. We could always use a little help in that department."
There wasn't any way to wriggle out of that one. As they left the outer office, there was a brief conversation between Luda and Mr. Jamieson. Cynthia wasn't surprised to see a slip of paper pass from his hand to hers. No doubt, knowing of her interest in political affairs, he was offering to provide her with some in-depth insights.
When they joined the others for snacks in the late afternoon, Cynthia could see that things had gone well. Joan, having led a successful art tour, was happy. When they were alone together, Cynthia said, "I told you how good you'd be taking these young people around."
"Well, I already knew the girls, and the young man, Adam, is really very nice."
"He didn't try to get you behind the bushes?"
"Oh no. He's a perfect gentleman. He's even worried about his parents back in Kiev."
"Yes, I know about that. If you invite him to your house and get him to play your piano, you'll be amazed."
"I'm sure I will. How did things go with your group?"
"All right. We met Senator Munson. He was quite welcoming, and he and Bert seem to understand each other."
"Well, Cynthia, I know a little more than I let on. I disapprove, I really do. But there's nothing I could possibly do about it."
"You mean influence and favor trading?"
"I guess that's inevitable. But the business with Luda. She's going to end up sleeping with some corrupt senator who can help Bert with his business."
"It's quite possible. But, from what I've seen, she's an enthusiastic participant. Which I can understand. My organization is only going to support her through college, and the people she meets here can get her a good position when she graduates."
"You've told me how damaged she is from her time in Russia, and I've begun to see it for myself. I suppose she can't get a job in the usual way."
"I don't really think so. She's not particularly politic, or obedient, and there's the unpredictability. She's just too Russian for any ordinary job."
"So be it. Bert's taking her off somewhere tonight to meet other people. I'm sure he'll succeed in placing her somewhere somehow in a way that's advantageous for both of them.