flash fiction, (c) 2012 by C. N. Nevets
You work for fifteen years and it’s all routine. Then you get the kind of phone call that makes your stomach sink as soon as the phone rings. You let it go voicemail. Then you hear your admin assistant’s phone ring. Your stomach sinks even lower. You hear her answer. You hear her say, “Oh, oh my gosh, okay, yes, of course.” Your stomach is in your toes.
Your phone rings again. It’s a transfer. When you pick it up, you hold your breath. The woman give you the typical pleasantries. Her voice is devoid of emotion or sentiment. You work in government; you’re used to that. This woman, though, it sounds like she’s trying to push through with uncommon haste to get to the point. The point is a time and a room number. A congressional office.
“You’ll be meeting with the congressman personally,” she says.
You’ve met congressmen before. You’ve never met with them, however. That one little preposition seems to change everything. The trail your stomach left on its slide down your gut tract has turned to ice. You your inner lip. You’re sure if you don’t your teeth would chatter.
Government work is all about routine. It’s all about dotting I’s and crossing T’s and pushing papers. It’s all about hurry up and wait. It’s all about endless meetings and committees which nail things in Jell-O. It’s not about calls out of the blue to congressional offices to meet personally with congressmen.
Out of the blue. This call was out the violet.
It has to a coincidence. It has to be. But out of all the congressmen in this congressman-infested town, what are the odds that you get a sudden summons to meet with the one you’re quietly preparing to investigate for 800,000 missing dollars.
There’s no preamble to the meeting. There’s no small talk, no typical pleasantries, no Robert’s rules of order. There’s an angry-looking congressman with a banker’s box on his desk. “We need talk,” he says.
Your heart might be racing. You can’t feel it beating, so it’s hard to tell. You wish you had a sweater.
You manage to nod.
The congressman says, “In forty-five seconds, I’m going to bring my aids in here and you and I are going to talk about $800,000.”
No coincidence at all. Not out of the violet, the blue, or any other color. Out of self-defense.
The congressman goes on to say, “You and I are going to talk about $800,000 that must be accounted for.”
An explanation? An excuse? Something to preempt your investigation?
The congressman continues, “We’re going to talk about $800,000 that the American people will need an explanation for.”
That’s politics talking, but you’re not surprised. Fifteen years working here, you’re used to that. Politics is the pulse of this city.
The congressman concludes, “We’re going to talk about the $800,000 conference extravagance in Las Vegas you authorized for your people.”
Now you feel your heart. It’s pounding against your rib cage. Your pupils dilate. Your mouth is dry. “What conference?”
The congressman simply smiles. “Fifteen seconds.”
“There was no conference. What conference are you talking about?”
The congressman taps the banker’s box. “Receipts don’t lie, son. Receipts don’t lie.” Without cue, the door to the office opens, and a handful of aides enter the room. “Time’s up.”