Becalmed in Political Doldrums
Chapter 12 – Shiva’s Messenger
Becalmed in Political Doldrums
Like a buyer at a stock auction, Brian Bain carefully looked over the boy who’d responded to the employment ad. A very good looking young man he was with a face and body that would have housewives squirming to pee themselves. Their moderately jealous husbands would buy a life insurance policy simply to prove they were responsible providers. Brian had started in the business that way so he knew very well how a lad like this could produce. Still, it took more than visuals to be a top life insurance agent.
“Why,” Brian glanced back at the résumé, “have you left your previous employment and come to Ohio to seek work?” Not actually reading anything on the paper, it made the interviewer appear to be studiously evaluating.
“I was in a dead-end rut and wanted to change my prospects. My friends there were working class guys and being unfettered will make my transition to white collar work much easier.”
“Why are you interested in selling insurance?” Looking up from the application form he watched to appraise the apparent honesty.
“I believe in the product and I can sell anything that I’m sold on. My father died without coverage some years ago. His unexpected death left my mother in difficult circumstances. I also want a career that builds as I work and pays me compound interest for my efforts.”
“Where’s your mother now?”
“She passed away some time ago. We didn’t have much money or an H.M.O., so she hid her illness until it was too late.”
“Do you have any other family?”
“I’m an only child. In fact, my parents were both only children and all my grandparents passed away long ago. I never really knew any of them. Actually, Sir,” the applicant smiled, “that made it easier for me to make a clean break to move here.”
“Most guys who get into life insurance start by selling to their family. I guess you’ll have to get your first ones the hard way.”
“One way or the other doesn’t make a difference to me.”
“Do you think that the job of insurance agent will be easy?”
“Frankly, yes.” Allen Powers made and held eye contact. “But I’m sure that isn’t the answer you were looking for.”
“Confidence is worth much more than any pat answers.” Bain returned his focus to the résumé but this time he scanned it. “You can start your training Monday morning at nine. You’ll have to do a two week course and then pass a federal exam before you get a chance to earn any money.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bain.” Allen stood and shook his hand with a firm, dry grip. “I’ll pass the test.”
“I’m sure that you will. See you after the weekend.” Brian watched him stand and walk out of the room. He was happy with the selection but there was something different about Allen that he couldn’t quite call to his forebrain: maybe he would deduce it later. Powers certainly did have a self-assured demeanor. That would serve him almost as well as his making the wives horny.
Allen was sporting a smug grin when he left the insurance office. He’d just landed his first real job ever and all it took was one interview. His work history information was entirely fictitious but well crafted: he had surmised that the prospective employer would focus on today. The sales end of insurance didn’t look closely at the past. They cared primarily about the present and the nebulous future when everybody would eventually die.
“I doubt Mr. Bain will even check out my résumé.” If the employer looked into it too closely, he might find that in between semesters at college, Allen Powers had taken a summer job at a lumber mill in Minnesota. Young people tend to feel that they possess immortality and are inexperienced in deciding which dangerous tasks they should refuse. In this instance, the self-impression of deathlessness was not well founded and he became an actuarial statistic during his first week.
“You didn’t just pass it: you aced the test.” Bain handed over the temporary agent’s license certificate and explained. “The card will be mailed from the bureau. Congratulations and now get busy.”
Tracking down leads did prove difficult and time consuming at first. Allen persevered and soon found he could also carve out some sales in an often-overlooked niche market. As he worked on those, Shiva’s Messenger slowly compiled a short list of special clients who were of particular interest to him.
He hadn’t lied to Bain about believing in the product. People died. Sometimes it happened suddenly, violently and without time to prepare. Those left behind were often vulnerable and needed some looking after.
“You wanted to speak with me.” The sales manager offered a hand to a seat.
“Yes,” the young insurance agent sat, “I’m not producing as well as I believe you might’ve expected.”
“I takes time getting started in this business.” Bain consoled. “But I’m not dissatisfied with you. You’re paid on commission so you can only disappoint yourself. If you want the big money then you have to motivate yourself to hustle.”
“That may be a liability,” Allen chuckled, “cash has never been my motivator. If I have sufficient, then it’s enough.”
“You’ll find that attitude could change later in your life.” Brian laced his fingers and set them on his desk. “But I don’t think you wanted this talk only to offer an unnecessary apology.”
“I’m told the local congresswoman is a close personal friend of yours. I’d like to do volunteer work for her and was wondering if you could put in a good word for me.” Allen went on to elaborate on how the constituency office could also find him more leads.
“I’d be happy to arrange that for you.” Brian Bain was thrilled. Judith Forrester was a dear friend and she was Republican, as was his affiliation. She could always use the extra assistance.
“Thank you.” Allen stood to leave.
“I’m more than pleased that my newest agent is showing some civic responsibility.” Brian Bain offered the customary handshake and joked as they shook. “But if you want to fit in as a good young Republican, you’d better place the acquisition of wealth a lot higher up on your to-do list.”
After that meeting, Allen Powers continued to make enough sales so as not to appear on the employment radar. He blended in as unobtrusively as he could. Only his nasty allergy to bleach-craft pulp that required him to use cotton gloves when handling paper differentiated him from the other agents. He all but disappeared into the background and that was exactly how the young insurance salesman wanted it.
About two weeks after Allen Powers started his job in life insurance, another boy named Allen seemed to arrive in Akron. His interest was in finding a career in Emergency Services. He had plenty of spare time to volunteer as an ambulance driver. The paramedics did all of the emergency medical stuff but Allen did get a first aid ticket. Always cheerful, he worked his shifts and simply did his job while he gained experience in hopes of being taken on full-time. Slowly here also, Shiva’s Messenger became the impalpable guy that just did his job unnoticed.
After Wright and Powers became largely invisible at work, Allen started concentrating effort into his work for the congresswoman. Judith Forrester seemed a genuinely good person who had entered politics for the right reasons. From what the young volunteer saw initially, she conscientiously represented her constituents. Just that alone made her a rare commodity in politics.
“Why doesn’t Judith spend more on advertising?” The new boy Friday made a casual inquiry to the congresswoman’s assistant as he collected a stack of outgoing correspondence from her desk. “An adoring public needs to see and hear her before they fall in love.”
“If I didn’t already know how new you are here, that question just confirmed it.” Nelly chuckled. “Our candidate is hampered by her own best traits.”
“Yes?” His inflection urged her to please continue.
“She speaks her opinion even when it’s critical of her own party’s platform.” Nelly obliged.
“That could make the hierarchy somewhat stingy in doling out the shared funds.” Allen interjected before she could elaborate.
“Bingo!” Nelly picked up her coffee mug and swiveled her chair to face him in what promised to be an intriguing conversation. She dropped the next nugget into the sluice. “I’ve also never seen her trade away her personal integrity on a backroom deal.”
“I suppose there aren’t many other politicians publicly patting her back for the good work she’s accomplishing.” The man parked his butt against a two-drawer filing cabinet. “Corporate sponsor’s checks might not comprise a very large percentage of the mail bag.”
“Gin!” Her single word affirmations gave a hint at the games that occupied Nelly’s off duty evenings. “You’ve basically answered your own question. Gaining popularity through the paid media just isn’t in her hand for our congresswoman to play.”
“Hopefully there’s a trump card lurking somewhere in her deck.” Allen slapped the small bundle of envelopes against his other palm. “Well, I’d better get these to the post office.”
“Was that Albert?” Judith emerged from her office with a file.
“Allen Powers.” Nelly corrected.
“When he first joined my staff, I assumed it was to suck-up and impress his boss.” The congresswoman confided. “But whenever he sees me, he just goes about his business. That really doesn’t fit the profile of a brownnoser.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Nelly dutifully offered a bland invitation for a further monolog discussion. She was well used to being a sounding board when Judith Forrester wanted to think out loud.
“Another reason for his coming onboard might’ve been to pick up women.” The politician voiced another notion. Many attractive females did seem to congregate around the trappings of power. “I haven’t spotted him making overtures so I’m tempted to discount his having a lusty agenda.”
‘If anything, the reverse is true.” Nelly chuckled. “I’ve been a party to some fairly randy discussions about him in the coffee room. If there’s a complaint about sexual harassment it might be from him, instead of about him.”
“It bothers me when I can’t read someone’s motivations. I also can’t afford harboring any uncertainties about my staff right now.” Judith dropped the file she was carrying into Nelly’s ‘in’ basket. “Please schedule me time to have a personal chat with him.”
“I think you may find that an enjoyable prospect.” Nelly quietly offered an opinion but Judith was walking to her office and might’ve missed hearing it. The assistant recalled her impression of the new kid. He didn’t seem of a similar type to those she’d watched her boss chew up and spit out.
“Allen, you must think I don’t value your contributions because I haven’t sat down and spoken with you before.”
“Not at all, Madam. You’re an important person with demands on your time. I don’t feel slighted in any way.”
“Please, let’s not be so formal,” she admonished him cheerfully. “Working here earns you the right to call me Judith.”
“Thank you, Judith.”
“So, which of my opinions do you especially support?” she asked with a smug smile. That question would definitely winnow the wheat from the chaff. She waited for the inevitable waffling.
“None of them.”
“Then what,” Judith was taken sharply aback, “are you here for if you don’t like any of my opinions?”
“I hold them all more or less equally.”
“Don’t do that to me! I’m your Boss.” She wagged a finger and chuckled. How many times had she sent someone up a wrong track with a switch like that? “I guess I have to mind my questions better with you.”
His utterly phony innocent smile was a clear yes.
“What is there about my platform that you don’t like?” Judith tried to get at the same general information but from the opposite direction. She prepared to pounce tooth and claw if he tried to wiggle out on another ambiguity.
“Actually, I’m not passionate about any particular political issues. I’m more interested in the qualities of our leaders and the decision process. The one thing that I like least about you is your situation. You deserve to rise because you’re the cream in a vat of curdled milk. But forces beyond your control are holding you back.”
She cocked her head slightly and her opinion of him climbed up several notches. That was a juicy reply. With hints of corruption, intrigue, a complement delivered in a manner that was anything but favor-currying and a few more tantalizing word usages, he served up about ten tennis balls at once. She could only volley back one and chose the intrigue. “What forces would those be?”
“Media trade winds follow the path of the most currency. That leaves your sails flapping in the doldrums. The flow of the public’s attention is diverted through a myriad of weirs. Opportunists can portage at a whim to stronger currents but your raft is steadfastly in the stagnant channel of your principles of good governance. The democratic process is a boat race but the whores who can afford the biggest oars usually win it.”
“It seems a hopeless situation.” Judith chuckled wryly. “Should I pull the scupper plug and scuttle, or just wait for a torpedo?”
“You’re the master holding the tiller bar.” A slight nuance of Allen’s eyebrows lent just a hint of lasciviousness. “I’m just your man slave with a paddle.”
“I quite liked your analogies of our capitalistic electoral regatta.” The congresswoman backed sharply away from the slave boy quip. “Shall I put you to work as my speechwriter?”
“I’ll do anything you want.” Allen’s unconditional promise was delivered in earnest.
On that, Judith Forrester was suddenly recalled of a notation found at the unknown border of early European maps. ‘Here be dragons’. People don’t make promise they can’t or won’t keep and sound so sincere about it. Physically attractive young men certainly didn’t offer unreserved obedience to unmarried women twice their age and sound so convincing about the pledge. She studied his features but could find no hint of ulterior intent. I suppose though that nobody sees the dragon until flames show.
The congresswoman steered the further discussion into the much safer, well-charted waters of small talk. By the close of their meeting, she quite liked him. She still had no clues of what made him tick and her probes were all skillfully rebuffed. He just waltzed her down alternate conversational streets. Too often, those ended abruptly at another faintly ribald ambiguity.
“I’ve enjoyed our chat. Let’s do it again.” Unfortunately, time was at a premium due to the exhaustive groundwork involved for the upcoming presidential visit to her district.
“I’m just a call or a beck away.”
She watched as he walked away. I can see why he’s the talk of coffee klatch girls. Besides the physicality though, he also had wits enough to have kept Judith on tiptoes throughout their interview. He was just what she liked in a debate sparring partner. About the only way to schedule some time though, was to include him in her preparations for the looming political extravaganza.
“Hold on a second.” Nelly covered her phone while she flagged him down and signaled him to wait. “No, she’s out of town until day after tomorrow. Goodbye.” She cradled the receiver. “It seems you’ve made a favorable impression on the boss.”
“Good.” His choice of coming to Ohio was strictly for the political importance. The reason for his charitable work was in the insider information he could glean. Allen would’ve gladly even done unpaid work for a scumbag sycophant to meet his overall objectives. That Judith was such an atypical gem was a treat.
“That’s a matter of opinion.” The woman chuckled. “The more Judith likes you also means the harder she works you. You’re being assigned extra duty.”
“No problem. Sleeping and eating are just frills anyways. What’s my new assignment?”
“You have a choice.” Nelly showed him a short selection. “I’d steer clear of this one though. Its long hours and it could get nasty.”
“I’ll take it.” His eyes followed her fingertip to a chore that fit his mission like plug in a socket.
“You’re either brave or stupid and I don’t know you well enough to guess which.” The woman laughed and handed him the file. “Judith will want you to go over this with you and then will likely vent her frustrations on you. I hope you’ve had a few frills lately: you’re not going to have more for about the next 36 to 48 hours.”
Allen just grinned and shrugged.
“I appreciate your doing this. You’ve saved me from being an ogre on tasking someone else or worse yet, having to do it myself.”
“I’m told that you’re the unfortunate who pulled the short straw.” Judith watched her newest assistant saunter in.
“You were informed wrongly then. I had first pick and choose it from the list.” He held the folders at his full arms extension as if they were unexploded ordinance. “I’m glutinous in the punishment department.”
“Give it over.” The congresswoman held out a hand.
Allan draped himself nonchalantly on her plush office divan to await her reaction.
“Pardon me while I vomit!” She offered a gracious comment on the list of names that read like a who’s who of her least favorite politicians. “When I leave the stage I’m going to need a shower.”
“You should push to get a team of janitors with brooms and shovels to clean the podium before it’s your turn at the mike.”
“I know you’re operating on zero sleep right now but can we go through the rest of your material now?” Judith asked. His task was to exhaustively ferret out details on each person so they could build a strategy in differing eventualities. She took a closer look at him. “I have to say, that you look amazingly good despite your ordeal.”
“Sure.” Allan deferred commenting. In fact, it had reduced his workload and he had enjoyed ample rest. His own research was on the same vein and he had much of it done already. Shiva’s Messenger needed to know which person he could feel comfortable in killing. As interviewing in person was impossible, research was the only other alternative. Until he got this extra duty, his field of potential speakers had been much wider.
“Let’s start by trying to deduce what order we’ll be speaking in.”
“You’ll likely be last.” He spoke the unkind truth
“Alright, so that was the easy part.” Judith shrugged off the remark as what it was—a bluntly accurate assessment. The president wasn’t coming here to support her. The senior congressman for the area was owed the political favors. Her being on the same stage was due only to her current position as a congresswoman who happened to belong to the same party.
“Then what’s next?” He already knew and was eager.
“Now we’ll have to decide who’ll be just before me. I’ll be expected to say something nice about them and to find that I might have to search back to the cradle.”
They knuckled down to work and Allen carefully drew out her impressions on each personality. Judith was the perfect research tool for the moralistic assassin because she had dealt with most of them and could relate tidbits not housed in any archives.
“At least the vice-president won’t be there. He’s the worst of the lot.” As they finished up, Judith removed her bifocals and tried to pinch the start of a headache from the bridge of her nose.
“Yep,” he’d been concentrating on finishing up his mental list and her comment only partially registered. Allen shuffled his notes back into a semblance of order and closed the file. “We’re done.”
When Allen said he was finished, it announced finality in all aspects. The political intern Powers had completed his assigned task and Shiva’s Messenger had satisfied his preplanned objectives. He could continue to work for Judith but he didn’t require anything else from her. Now, he was free to play any games he wanted.
“And an ugly task it was.” Judith put her glasses back on and joked. “Did you bring in any good news to take the edge off it?”
“As a matter of fact I did,” Allen concealed a malicious smirk, “you’re scheduled to take a thrilling political junket.”
“I don’t have any time for frivolous travel.” The congresswoman jerked alert. This was the first time she had heard anything about a trip. “Where am I supposed to go?”
“All expenses paid to beautiful downtown Akron.” Allen grinned puckishly. For such a smart lady, Judith was easy-pickings for him to sneak up on at a gullible moment. “The Secret Service wants you to go over the security arrangements with them.”
“You’re such an imp,” the congresswoman abused her volunteer aide with a punch in the shoulder while laughing, “I’m going to reduce your salary by half. How much are we paying you? Zero? In that case, make it by 90% so it really hurts.” She did enjoy having a non-pandering assistant to keep her grounded in reality. “On second thought, I’ll punish you worse by making you escort me over there. We can endure it together.”
“I know you’re against the death penalty so I’m shocked at your support for corporal punishment.”
“You show far too much impertinence. Your mother should have spanked you harder and far more often.” Judith chuckled. If she’d been working through the same file with her personal assistant, Nelly would be cringing on her every word and justifiably so. Instead, she was cheerful—but Allen Powers always displayed an uncanny ability to put her into a good mood.
“Are you suggesting that you should make up for her shortfall?”
“You just love deliberately misinterpreting what I say.” Now Judith giggled at the mental image of turning him over her knee to give the cheeky wretch some much needed discipline.
“We both might like it.”
“Allen!” The politician stiffened as reality suddenly intruded on her imaginative vignette. “That almost sounded like you were flirting with me.”
“Maybe I am.” Allen moved from his seat at her worktable to rest more comfortably on her couch.
“I’ll just chalk this episode up to your fatigue.” She sat down on the armchair that was perpendicular.
“Why? I’m not tired.”
“For one thing, I’m well over 50 and you’re barely even legal to drink yet.”
“Age is just a number.”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.” If there were truly the dragons that the cartographers warned of then she would soon see them. Judith found it impossible to fathom just his simple motivations: this situation was beyond any accurate grasping.
“Because of a societal taboo against discussing discouraged subjects openly? I’ve been offering up lewd innuendos since we met and you’ve enjoyed them.”
“There was no threat in them.”
“I hope I’m not menacing right now either.”
“Actually,” Judith searched her innermost feelings and was somewhat surprised at the returned result, “you’re not.”
“Good,” he smiled, “I’m enjoying this conversation.”
“The risqué wordplays are only in fun though.” The woman decided that contrary to her initial trepidations, she liked this talk as well. Perhaps, he might even deliver up some clues to his make-up.
“Are they really? I suspect there’s a good reason why the word intercourse is defined as both active sex and interactive dialog.”
“Whether an event between two people happens physically or only in the imagination, it still occurs. The one just requires verbal transmission before it can be a shared experience.”
“I can accept that but an invitation to paddle your bare backside is an attempt to bring a mental episode into the real moment. There it crosses the line.”
“I disagree. It may skirt the threshold but if one party refuses then the incident remains only in the mind. I may fantasize that my buttocks is stinging but your palm isn’t pink from thrashing it.”
“I might even consider doing that,” Judith adopted a mock stern scowl, “because God knows you do really deserve it.”
“I told you in our first interview I would do whatever you wanted and I meant that literally.” His expression was not humorous, “If that meant bending over your desk for a sound switching, then so be it.”
“Now that, I can’t understand.” The congresswoman almost considered calling her young assistant’s bluff, to see if it was one. “Nor can I accept it.”
“There is only one way you could gain certainty.”
“You’re an exceedingly attractive man.” Judith observed. “Supposing I was to indulge my libido and invite you to my boudoir. This is just a hypothetical question.”
“Then you and I would play the beast with two backs under a blanket.” Allen smiled and then added. “Of course that’s simply a theoretical answer too, until you choose it to be otherwise.”
“Young men don’t jump into bed with old women unless there’s a compelling reason for it.” Judith dangled the bait. His response to this one could be the crux, unless he evaded the issue—again.
“When you were younger, did you never entertain speculations towards a much older man? A strong societal precept discourages that behavior and perhaps you missed an enjoyable encounter in the flesh.”
“I had a number of adolescent crushes and you’re correct about the reason being the taboo. But that one exists to stop people from making mistakes at an impressionable period in their lives.”
“I could debate its true intent and its value but that’s a sideline issue. I suggest that if you had succumbed to the temptations, then even if the tryst turned out fully gratifying, you would’ve still felt a remorse because in societies eyes you’d been shameful.”
“That’s correct. I would’ve felt terrible. But those societal precepts as you called them, are also a beneficial basis to extend outwards to form the rule of law.”
“I don’t want to discuss the footing of the law either. That’s another tangent.” He paused to demark the shift back to his crux. “You allowed society to decide your morals but that was your choice and I can’t fault you for it. I’m the reverse. I have my own rules of honor and I’m comfortable with them. If I wanted to do something that fit with my personal ethics but didn’t because a group though it unmentionable, then I’d feel I’d let myself down just as strongly as you would if you’d lustily banged your chicken-hawk.”
“That sounds vaguely libertarian but what’s your main point?”
“The core lurking beneath the surface,” he grinned knowingly, “is that I’ve eluded another probe because you wrongly discounted the possibility that pure allure, in whichever its form, could be that compelling reason for a virile man’s ardor. This is still hypothetical.”
“Touché!” Judith laughed heartily. The crafty little shit got me again and it was a good one. He’s been wise to my explorations.
“There’s really only one succinct question remaining.” Allen took two relaxed breaths to allow suspense to build before lighting the fuse. He looked into her eyes and asked. “Shall we have sex?”
Judith Forrester’s brain seemed to physically separate into two cognizant halves, with each expressing a differing outlook. One argued the many valid grounds why a tryst was inadvisable. The decidedly feminine entity conjured up vibrant visualizations of pleasures with the handsome Allen Powers. She stared at his face but that made her dilemma even worse.
Young Mister Powers reveled in watching the intense emotional turmoil his employer was so obviously enjoying. He could read it in her face as clearly as a television drama. To stoke the coals of her conflicting feelings, he grinned and flirted with his eyebrows. He put his elbow on his knee and his chin in his palm to intently wait for her answer. Allen was almost certain it would be, no but was prepared for either eventuality.
“Tempting as your offer might be,” the jury of Judith’s mind had its verdict, “I have to decline.”
Allen leaned back on the cushioned sofa. He smiled deliciously and feigned smoking a cigarette, as if in the afterglow of passion.
“You really need a girlfriend and I can’t understand why you don’t have one already.” She burst out laughing at his antics but her mind still raced. Someday I’m going to figure him out. When I do, I’m going to ponder on what this verbal intercourse was really about.