The ringtone I’d assigned to Sean McCoy was “Shower in the Dark” by Binary Mystery. The band was chosen because binary must have been his native tongue in the android factory in which I assumed he was assembled; the word mystery referred to the fact that I had no idea what the fuck he was about. The symbolism of the song itself was that it was free for download, and I didn’t want to put too much work into a goddamned ringtone.
“Why didn’t you shut that shit off, Max,” asked my editor, Myron Fogle.
“Because nobody ever calls me.”
“I call you.”
“Nobody who doesn’t ask me to do things that aren’t my job calls me.”
He frowned as he rifled through negatives in that sentence until he uncovered my point. “Your job is to do whatever I tell you to do.”
“If you told me to eat the Chrysler Building?” I asked. “Would that be my job?”
“Checkmate,” I admitted.
He sighed, “I don’t like this either, Max, but word came from on high.”
Myron flinched, because he was Jewish, and his people were not in the habit of speaking the names of those at the top. And while Mr. Lloyd wasn’t God, he was pretty close. “Not quite that high.”
“So nobody gets struck by lightning if I pass?”
My editor took a deep breath and removed the reading glasses I was certain he only owned because he needed something to remove to show he was serious. “I really hate to tell you this, because you’re a cocky son of a bitch, and the last thing you need is validation.”
“You’re the only one who can get in there.” He explained, “When it comes to journalism, nobody’s security is tighter than Hollywood’s, yet you get through every time we ask you to.”
“I don’t do it because you ask,” I replied. “I do it because they because they don’t want me to do it.”
“These guys really don’t want you to.”
“Total media blackout for three square blocks surrounding the entire Brook-Gareth Hotel complex. “Nobody gets in without an invitation, and those involve security checks.”
“Catering? Cleaning staff?” I asked. “Being Hispanic does give me an unfair advantage.”
He shook his head. “In-house.”
I ground my teeth.
“You have thirty-six hours. No interviews–just the names of the people there, the gist of the keynote speech and the identity of the one giving it, and some color. All you’ll need to do is get in, get out, and call Bill immediately so he can type it up.” He sat down at his desk, returned his glasses to their former position, glanced at his computer, glanced back, and said, “You’re still here?”
I called Sean back immediately.
He asked, “I’m curious as to your–“
“Busy,” I replied. “I’ve got to get into this super-secret-media-non-grata-political-fundraising-bullshit and so some stealth reporting and I don’t even know how I can get into the building without an invite…”
“I can acquire an invitation.”
“You are alluding to the governor’s ball at the Brooke-Gareth Hotel tomorrow evening, are you not?”
“You’re invited?” I stammered.
“Not presently,” he replied. “Typically, I choose to avoid such events inasmuch as they tend toward the stuffy and pretentious.” Yes, I was aware of the irony, but I don’t think he was. “However, it will be a simple matter of a telephone call to amend my schedule.”
And so, the next evening, a tuxedo-clad Sean McCoy strolled up to where I leaned on the outside wall of the Brooke-Gareth hotel and asked, “This is the attire you have chosen for such a prohibitively high-security, high-class gathering?”
“I tucked my shirt in!” I said.
“You may wish to remain by my side for the duration of the evening, lest your goal be ascertained by those who do not want their greased palms exposed.”
I watched limo after limo pull up to the front door to be met by enormous, humorless security guards. “You’re probably right,” I told him.
Naturally I wandered off at the first sign of an hourglass figure in a strapless, backless evening gown. She was all class, and I was playing hooky out by the creek or whatever it was kids did when they played hooky. She belonged here in this nightmare of political tuxedos and greased hands. I, on the other hand, did not. Long story short, I was not even remotely in her league.
That never stopped me before. “Hi,” I said to the woman who possessed both the figure and the gown, “I’m Max.”
“Sara,” she replied before she even saw me. When she did, she looked me up and down and smirked. “You’re wearing cowboy boots?”
“Yes, I am.”
“At a formal, fundraiser?”
“You may be the ballsiest man in this building.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” I replied. “Senator Bruno Sanchez is standing over there, and he’s running in the primary as a fiscal conservative.”
She laughed. “Ouch.”
“He’s not the ballsiest man in the building,” I continued. “That would be Councilman Marvin Hechtmann over there, who insists he’s the go-to guy for family values. Now, if you want to expand the field to both genders, then the ballsiest person in the room is Senator Vicky Southern, who voted against the last federal jobs bill and has actively been campaigning to repeal it. And when the money from it started rolling in, she signed the checks and went to all the photo ops, and–this is my favorite part–claims that the money came from a different spending package.”
With a grin, she shook her head.
I concluded, “On the other hand, I am wearing cowboy boots to a formal fundraiser.”
“You know the press isn’t invited here tonight.”
“What makes you think I’m the press?”
She flashed me a dirty but amused look.
I gave her a card. “You win.”
She took a look at it. “I was wrong,” she said. “You’re not a real journalist if you work at this paper.”
“I like you.”
“The feeling’s mutual.”
“Want to get out of here?”
“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s my party.”
“You’re the governor?”
She laughed. “I’m the social director. I’m the one who brought all this together.”
“Oh.” I asked her, “You want to find an empty room nearby and fool around?”
“You really are the ballsiest person in the building.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“There’s an old smoking lounge on the other side of the bar,” she replied. “No one knows it’s there.”
I don’t know how long we’d been in there, but I do know that I had my hand up her skirt when Sean turned on the lights.
“Max,” he announced, “you need to be aware that…”
Sara jumped off of my lap and began smoothing out her dress while I tucked my shirt back into my pants.
He groaned in frustration. “Is there any point in your life, Max, when you are not…”
Sara said, “Hello, Sean.”
His back stiffened. “Sara.”
“Are you his plus-one?” she asked me.
She snorted and walked to his side. “You, of all people, should remember that the media is not, nor has it ever been, invited to gatherings such as this.”
“He is merely my companion,” he replied. “What he chooses to do with that status is his business.”
“Your companion? I was wondering how long it would take for you to realize that about yourself.”
“Aspersions about my sexuality? Mature.”
After she stormed away, I asked, “What the hell was that about?”
He rolled his eyes. “She’s my ex-wife.”
“Say no more.”
“I had no such intentions.” He pointed a thumb at the door. “Regardless, I have come to bring to your attention that the keynote speaker has nearly ascended to the podium. It might interest you to know that she is Andrea Gareth, heiress to this both the Gareth and the Brooke family holdings.”
“I need a minute before I can go out there.”
I nodded. Nothing Sean said surprised me anymore. Nothing.
Ninety minutes later, I whipped out my cell phone the moment I stepped out of the media-blackout zone. “Bill, I hope you’re ready to type. We might be able to catch the first edition–”
“No rush,” Bill replied. “We’ve been scooped.”
I handed Sean the phone. “Take this,” I said. “I need to find a quiet place to throw up.”
“Evidently you have given Max news of an unpleasant nature,” Sean said to Bill. “Please clarify while he vomits.”
After several hours’ worth of hors d’oeuvres fled my stomach, he handed me back my cell. “A journalist for your rival paper, The New York Caller, by the name of Allen Dean had secured, by means which remain unclear, interviews both with the governor and Andrea Gareth, as well as an advanced copy of the speech she eventually delivered.”
Sean replied, “Unbeknownst to either of us, you appear to have acquired yourself an arch-nemesis.”