Spin

Overview

Plunging into California politics armed with a lethal tongue and a taste for power, Gulf War veteran Jim Asher lands a plum role in Republican Edward Winston's bare-knuckle Senate campaign. Learning spin control from the master — Bud Raper, the crude hired gun who catapulted both Reagan and Bush into the Oval office — Jim quickly becomes the hottest new political consultant west of the Washington Beltway, an Armani-clad Machiavelli who snaps up the perks of a six-figure salary and illicit liaisons with everyone ...

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Overview

Plunging into California politics armed with a lethal tongue and a taste for power, Gulf War veteran Jim Asher lands a plum role in Republican Edward Winston's bare-knuckle Senate campaign. Learning spin control from the master — Bud Raper, the crude hired gun who catapulted both Reagan and Bush into the Oval office — Jim quickly becomes the hottest new political consultant west of the Washington Beltway, an Armani-clad Machiavelli who snaps up the perks of a six-figure salary and illicit liaisons with everyone from loyal party girls to roving celebrity reporters. Through it all, Jim keeps his eyes on the ultimate prize — Washington.
But when the stakes of the game are raised, Jim comes face-to-face with an unexpected nemesis: his own conscience. With more than one shark prowling the waters, Jim is forced to risk everything — a choice that threatens to trigger a political shakedown of epic proportions.
An unforgettable chronicle of political seduction, Spin is a whip-smart look at a world of thrilling excess, raw power, and utter ruthlessness — laying bare the American democratic process in action, and in the flesh.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
U.S. News & World Report Get ready for a Republican Primary Colors.

Los Angeles Daily News An absolute thermonuclear bombshell! Tom Lowe has written a sizzling, humorous, sometimes dark and deeply disturbing portrait of American politics and culture. This novel could certainly rock the country.

George magazine Sex Conservative Style: Republicans, take cover.

New York Post The glitter of the political machine is as fascinating as it is revolting — and the heady, booze-and-cash fueled rush of Asher's rise to stardom, and fall from it, is mesmerizing.

Los Angeles Times The political realm is abuzz over Spin. Tom Lowe paints a frenetic view of political campaigns bulging with egos, cash, and compromises....The thrill ride along the way is a universal rush.

Kirkus Reviews [A] delightfully trashy morality tale....[A] frothy, sex- and caffeine-fueled how-to exceed-in-politics adventure...[with an] ingenious antihero....and clever jabs at high-living conservatives that charms and scandalizes with disarming ease.

Chicago Tribune Jim Asher is a postmodern Great Gatsby, naive at heart, wending his way toward political status in California politics. And the book asks a serious question: Can one play the political game and remain honest?

Los Angeles Daily News Spin's Jim Asher is Jerry Maguire meets Dirk Diggler of Boogie Nights, and from the first page, he won't loosen his frantic grip on you.

The London Times Tom Lowe is preparing himself for instant celebrity status....Spin is certain to amaze.

Denver Post [A] political potboiler.

U.S. News and World Report
Get ready for a Republican Primary Colors.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Literature, it's not. Deep, it's not. Primary Colors, it's not. But Lowe's debut is funny, anyway, a satire for mouth-breathers, full of scandalous sex, power politics and big money in the California state assembly. Narrator Jim Asher, a young Gulf War vet and sometime writer for TV pundits, begins as a campaign volunteer; in two short years, he is director of public affairs for the assembly's Republican speaker. Since these are actual r sum items for first-time novelist Lowe, and since several of the events described did actually occur,the main appeal of this novel is the fan dance of facts and fabulation. The story is predictable, a morality tale grafted onto a political memoir. Jim makes piles of money, beds media queens, plays alpha male (a pet theory), double-deals and then winds up discovering himself in jail, with help from his cardboard mom, dad and lawyer grandpa--plus a war vet mentor straight out of central casting. The problem with this arrangement is that Lowe never reveals the story's mini-Machiavellis through the eyes of a straight (or even smart) character. Between swimming-pool orgies and media leaks, Jim has an irritating habit of indulging (with Lowe's approval, it would seem) in frat-house "philosophical" monologues, on Darwin, Nietzsche, etc., but when Jim is finally forced to make a moral choice, Lowe lets him strategize his way out of trouble. His yearlong travails in prison--a one-page coda in which he teaches his cell mate to read, using of all things, a copy of The Stranger ("Motherfucker talkin' 'bout the same shit I be goin' through")--end more plausibly, with Jim reflecting at the beach house of a rich politico: "Some say I got off easy. I say it's all about learning, and I've done a world of that." He hasn't. Beneath the moralizing, this is a trickster's tale that seems to have tricked itself. (Aug.) FYI: Lowe was an aide in Michael Huffington's 1994 campaign for senator and is billed as the "youngest person ever" to serve as director for public affairs for the speaker of the California Assembly.
Library Journal
"A riches-to-rags story [that] crackles with lusty energy and shimmers with steamy emotions," Lowe's novel is reputedly a roman clef, with Arianna and Michael Huffington in the starring roles. The result was lots of feature coverage (and reviews) in newspapers from the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post and C-SPAN and radio coverage as well. "Political junkies will line up for this first novel," predicted LJ's reviewer, and evidently they did. Now what about Lowe's next work? (LJ 6/1/98)
Library Journal
Lowe has worked in conservative arenas as an aide in a major state campaign, as director of public affairs for a major state legislative figure, and as a writer for a political TV program. In this work, he offers up a political misadventure that might be considered a Republicans' Primary Colors. Here it is not the candidate who gets skewered but the young scamp who dreams of gaining great profits and renown from his randy exploits into political campaigning. This rags-to-riches-to-rags story crackles with lusty energy and shimmers with steamy emotions. It is hard to believe that any serious work gets done during the political campaign when the nights are long on liquor and lovin'. Still, the campaign speeches roll out, funds and gold cards magically appear, lies are told, and the fantasy spins on and on. Described as fiction, this first novel jangles with edgy realism. Political junkies will line up for it, but wider appeal seems less likely unless a new round of political titillation ignites.Barbara Conaty, Library of Congress
Kirkus Reviews
Delightfully trashy morality tale posing as a Primary Colors political roman … clef, this time dishing and damning the Republican camp. How close is the colorless fictional California millionaire Edward Winston, who tries to buy his way into state politics, to the failed senate candidate Michael Huffington? First-novelist Lowe, a former aide on the Huffington campaign, as well as a writer for the McLaughlin Group (rendered here as McHoffman Group, whose "outspoken host," weþre told, is a "filthy animal"), seems content to burn every bridge in this frothy, funny, sex- and caffeine-fueled How-to-Exceed-in-Politics adventure. Loweþs ingenuous antihero, Jim Asher, a good-looking, articulate California surfer bum, rises in less than a year from an unpaid campaign volunteer position to become the "Luke Skywalker of Republican politics," trading in his used Ford Probe for a nasty black Hummee with SPIN DR on the license plate. Beginning with a lucky plunge in a hot tub with influential TV news reporter Samantha Gelhorne (which leads to a nude massage session with the candidate's bossy wife Mariella), Asher lets the world of pressure-cooker politics transform him into a coffee- and booze-guzzling samurai armed with cellphones, laptops, and a libido that never fails. Asher rapidly jumps from Winston's doomed campaign into a race to recall a "turncoat" Republican, shoving Brett Alexander, a shallow but well-intentioned political naif, into the coveted position of Speaker of the California Assembly, and then as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate. Every dirty trick Asher pulls is first spelled out for him by jaded journalists and bored political hacks. He seems invincibleuntil Frank Buckman, a powerful assemblyman whom Asher decked during a Republican victory celebration, uses the same tricks to take Asher down. A hilarious hash of political low-jinks, thinly fictionalized gossip, and clever jabs at high-living conservatives that charms and scandalizes with disarming ease.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671019242
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 7/1/1999
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 0.68 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Lowe

Tom Lowe worked as an aide in Michael Huffington's 1994 run for the Senate in California, and later became the youngest person ever to serve as director of public affairs for the speaker of the California Assembly. He has written for The McLaughlin Group in Washington, appeared in two Hollywood films, and fought in Operation Desert Storm. Spin is his first novel. He lives in Newport Beach, California.
Tom Lowe can be reached at noveltom@earthlink.net

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
I had just returned from a summer in Europe and had no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life. After four years on my own, with little to show for it, I was back living with my parents. But with Disneyland ten minutes away, Hollywood just up the 405, and the waves pounding the shore right off our porch, Newport Beach was my kind of town — larger than life, self-mythologizing.
I came in from the beach one weekday afternoon and hosed off my surfboard. My mom was reading on our back porch.
"How's the water, sweetheart?" she asked.
"A little chilly," I said. "Nothing like the Mediterranean in June." I draped a towel over my shoulders, sat down at the patio table, and poured myself an iced tea. "Why are you home from work so early, Mom?"
"I had a parent conference this afternoon. One of my kids is having some emotional problems; he's been kicking other students."
"Fun."
My mom was a counsellor for severely handicapped kids at the local high school. I had worked as an aide in her classroom when I went there. Of course, she always gave me great recommendations. I loved my mom more than anyone; she seemed perfect in all respects.
"Have you given any more thought to what we were talking about?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess. I mean, I like kids, and being a teacher sounds pretty good, but there's no money in it."
"Well, that's true. But, Jim, you wouldn't have to do it forever. I could help you get your credentials in about two months, and then you could just teach until you decide what you really want to do. You'd have your summers off."
"I guess. I'm still thinking about it. But I don't wanna live at home forever. I need to make some real money, so I can get out on my own."
"You know you're welcome here as long as you need a place, sweetheart. Another thing is, a lot of politicians get their start by teaching, if you're still thinking about that for a career. Mayor Preston was a teacher for ten years before he ran for the city council. I'll bet the mayor would even let you volunteer in his office during your summer breaks. That could be your foot in the door."
"I'll think about it. Thanks, Mom."
I walked inside and sat down to watch TV with my brother, Jake.
"So, what's up for this weekend, bro?" he asked.
"There's a big party Friday, down on Forty-second. I heard they're getting two kegs. I don't know what's up Saturday. I'm getting kinda sick of the same old parties, though — same chicks, same brawls, same stupid conversations."
Jake nodded. He was a sophomore in college, so he was still in full party mode — every Friday and Saturday night, every weekend, guaranteed. But to me the weekends had all been blurring together lately. Sometimes it felt like I was just going through the motions, acting out the role expected of me, waiting for something real to happen in my life.
"Hey, wanna go backpacking next weekend?" Jake asked. "Hit the Sierras?"
"Maybe. Let me see what's going on with all these job applications. I'm pretty much broke. My ATM is more like a slot machine these days. I put my card in and I have absolutely no idea what's gonna come out. I'm always like, 'Come on, baby, twenty for daddy!'"
Jake smiled. "That's why we should go now, before you get stuck working."
"True. A few days trekking through Yosemite does sound pretty good."
I kicked my feet up on the coffee table, dusting its top with sand from the beach. I leaned back and relinquished my brain to the television, ready to burn away a few hours. Just then, a clever political ad came on for Edward Winston, labeling his opponent, California Senator Dana Steadfield, as "the liberal Democrat who loves to spend your money."
I was a political junkie, so I always kept up with everything in politics, but my time in Europe had put me slightly out of the loop. "Who is this Edward Winston guy?" I asked Jake.
"He's some rich guy running for the Senate. He has like four hundred million dollars. He's been destroying Senator Steadfield with these attack ads all summer. I think she's starting to slip in the polls."
"Good. It's about time someone stepped up to the plate. Steadfield is such a big, liberal bitch. I'd love to see her get booted out of Washington."
"Dude, you'd be amazed at all the ads Winston is running. You can't even turn on the TV without seeing one. I heard he's gonna spend whatever it takes to win."
Now that would be a cool place to work. I walked into my bedroom and dialed information.
"Hello, what city, please?" the operator asked.
"Uh...I don't know," I said.
"What listing, please?"
"Winston Senate campaign."
"Hold, please..." A few seconds passed. "I don't have anything for that."
"Okay, give me the Republican Party's phone number in Orange County."
"Hold, please..."
I called the GOP headquarters and got the address for the Winston campaign office in Santa Ana, only ten minutes away. I threw on some cheap slacks with suspenders and a tie — I wanted to look like Michael Douglas in Wall Street — and drove to Santa Ana. I was feeling spontaneous. What did I have to lose?
Once I found the correct address, I parked my Ford Probe and strolled up to the three-story building, which looked like any other mirrored office complex. I went through the lobby and up to the third floor. My heart was pumping. An engraved gold plaque on the door read: EDWARD WINSTON, US SENATE. When I walked through the door, I saw all kinds of commotion — everyone was running around talking to at least two or three people at the same time; dozens of fax machines were whizzing and screaming; a camera crew from Channel 4 was setting up to interview someone; and the beautiful young receptionist was staring at me, as if to say, Do you have any idea what you're getting into?
After sitting around for an hour, I was shuffled into the volunteer coordinator's office. He was a short guy named Ted. Pictures of Ronald Reaganwallpapered his office. I was very nervous as I sat down.
"So," he said, "the receptionist tells me you want to volunteer, huh?"
"Well, actually, I'm looking for a job."
"We don't hire people off the streets. Um, that's not to say you're a street person...uh...how did you hear about the campaign?"
"I saw one of those ads you're running on TV."
He grinned. "Pretty awesome, aren't they. Did you see the illegal alien one?"
"No. I saw the 'Democrat who loves to spend your money' one."
He laughed out loud. "That one's great! God, do I love that one!"
He had me smiling. This Ted guy, sitting there in his Ralph Lauren shirt, flanked by images of Reagan, was the real deal: a big-shot political player. But at the same time, I was keenly aware that I could do his job better than him. Not to brag, because there are extreme downsides to being a highly intelligent and lucid thinker — Dostoyevsky called it a curse — but since my earliest memories, I had always been aware of my abilities, and I always believed that if I was given a fair chance, in any situation, I could excel past everyone.
"Well," Ted said, glancing down at my résumé, "Jim...Well, Jim, it says here you were in the army."
"Four years."
"You're a Persian Gulf veteran, eh?"
"Yep."
"Well, you guys did a great job over there, I gotta tell you. I used to stay up all night watching CNN. Amazing. So, anyway, what other campaigns have you worked, Jim?"
"Actually, this will be my first. But I've been into politics ever since I can remember. In fact, when I was a kid, I would always skip Voltron or Tom & Jerry to catch Brinkley or Face the Nation. My neighborhood buddies thought it was a little strange."
"I know what you're saying. Great. And I see you have an English degree. Where do you picture yourself ten years from now, Jim?"
"Probably in the White House."
"What, as president?"
"No, no. I'm not exactly sure; maybe a spokesman. I've just always wanted to work in politics, especially at the White House."
"We have several people on this campaign who've worked at the White House."
"Really?"
"Really. So, Jim, why are you a Republican?"
"Well, my parents are Republicans. I've always been a Republican. I grew up here in Orange County. I hate high taxes, gun control, illegal immigration, welfare..." Not very eloquent so far.
"What do your parents do?"
"My pop works for UPS and my mom's a schoolteacher."
"That's respectable. Well, you seem bright. I think our issues director, John Griggs, could use some help. Are you interested in that?"
"Sure," I said, not really knowing what an issues director was.
Ted led me through the bustling hallways like a safari guide. The campaign took up the entire third floor. "That's Jeff," he said, pointing to a short, nerdy guy. "He does Edward's and Mariella's scheduling."
"Who is Mariella?" I asked.
"You don't know Mariella?"
"No."
"You will," he grinned. "She's the candidate's wife."
"Oh."
Ted pointed out everyone along the way. There were advance people, media people, field people, mail people, advertising people. Everyone looked at me when I walked by. Not friendly, not mean. Yet not too busy to stare.
"Where is the main campaign headquarters?" I asked.
"This is it, buddy. You're in the eye of the storm here."
Wow, I thought. This was exactly the opportunity I had been waiting for.
We found our way to the issues office. The place was a wreck, with newspapers, coffee cups, three-ring binders — there was shit everywhere. Sitting behind the desk was a man in his late twenties, moderately good-looking, about six three, built like a football player a few years after playing football, with messy hair and a friendly smile.
"John Griggs," Ted said to him. "This is Jim Asher. He wants to volunteer."
I trampled across the cluttered floor and shook John's hand. He had a pen behind each ear, hundreds of highlighted books and magazine articles scattered on his desk, and a purple juice stain on his shirt.
"Nice to meet you," I said nervously.
"Hey," he said. "How's it going."
Ted seemed eager to get back to his work. "You guys hang out and get to know each other. John here does all the issues and some of the speech writing for Mr. Winston. Come see me before you leave, okay, Jim?" Then Ted was gone.
"So," John said. "You want to do issues?"
"Sure."
"Good. I can really use the help. This campaign is kind of crazy. The candidate is spending millions of dollars, but you'll notice that things are a bit disorganized. Sometimes the elbow isn't talking to the hand, if you know what I mean."
I nodded. I didn't know if now was the time to ask, but I did anyway. "Is this a paying job?"
"Um, I don't think so." He paused. "But let me give you some advice. A smart guy once told me this, and one year later I was working at the White House — "
"You worked at the White House?"
"Three years, for Bush."
"What did you do?"
"I was in the White House communications office. I wrote the president's news summary every morning."
"So you must have worked under Marlin Fitzwater, then?"
"That's right," John said. He looked pleasantly surprised that I should know such a thing. "So, anyway, here's the advice: make yourself useful and you'll make yourself indispensable."
"Who told you that?"
"Bill Bennett."
"Impressive. So, when do I start?"
"Six o'clock tomorrow morning," he said. "I'll start you out going through newspapers, searching for clips. You'll cut out and photocopy any article about this campaign, or any issues that might be relevant — crime, welfare, illegal immigration, whatever. It's not that difficult, just time-consuming. And who knows, if you work hard and show up on time every day, they might even hire you to do the clips full-time."
"That'd be great. Thanks a lot, Mr. Griggs. I'll be here at six."
"Just call me John."
I drove home singing. I felt high and full of energy. It wasn't a paying job, but it was a foot in the door, and I knew that was all I needed. The 55 freeway was bumper to bumper with traffic. Some asshole in a Lexus cut into my lane, but I didn't even flip him off. Normally, when someone snaked me on the freeway, I would dream of hanging out through my sunroof with a rocket launcher. I would push the trigger, and the rocket would streak through the air and slam into their trunk, tearing through the sheet metal, then ripping through the backseat before the secondary charge exploded and turned the entire luxury car into a two-ton fragmentation grenade, blasting the discourteous driver into hundreds of flying scraps...but not today. No. Instead, I smiled and turned up the radio. I had something new and exciting in my life.
When I got home I told my mom about the campaign and everything I'd seen.
"That's great, Jim. How much does it pay?" she asked.
"Nothing at first. It's kind of a volunteer thing for now. But if I work hard, my new boss, this guy named John Griggs, who worked at the White House, said they might hire me full-time. And then, who knows..."
"That's terrific, sweetheart. Your father and I figured you'd probably find your way into politics sooner or later. Why don't you call him at work and tell him the good news."
"It's not that big a deal, Mom. I'll just wait till he gets home."
"Well, I'm proud of you."
"Thanks. I think I'm gonna hit the mall and start reading some newspapers and magazines. I need to get up to speed on politics if I'm gonna be a big wheeler-dealer."
My mom smiled.
"By the way, could you spot me a twenty until I can pay you back? My car's out of gas."
"Sure." She got her purse and gave me the money. "Just add it to the tab. You can pay me back when you're rich and famous."
"Thanks, Mom." I hated asking, but I was flat broke.
***
Fast-forward a month to a Thursday night in Hollywood. I was now working full-time for the Winston campaign. The candidate's lovely and ambitious wife, Mariella, had moved me from the issues office to the press office. She seemed to like me. Even the campaign manager, Chuck, had to be informed of my new position. Things happened much faster than I had expected. All I had to do was pledge my loyalty as a conservative through informal conversations around the office, demonstrate that I was one of them, work very long hours, be smart and useful to as many people as possible, and I was absorbed into the campaign. Just like that. For all they knew, I could have been a Democrat spy. There was no official screening process that I saw.
On this particular night, the campaign had rented out the Billboard Live nightclub for a campaign event called "Winston Rocks LA." A pretty lame attempt at courting so-called Gen-X voters, but at least I was out of the office for a few hours. I had spent the whole day pitching reporters on the telephone: "Hello, this is Jim Asher from the Winston campaign, and I just wanted to let you know that Edward Winston is holding an important event tonight at Billboard Live...blah, blah, blah." Unfortunately, most of my pitch calls were cut off by a quick slam of the reporter's phone, making me feel like a slimy cold-calling stockbroker. I was terrified that no one would show up. But luckily, every station in town sent a camera crew, and most sent reporters as well. My job was to kiss the reporters' asses and say nice things about Edward Winston. Easy enough.
I had a folding table outside, where another press assistant named Michelle and I issued passes to the media. Limousines were lined up in a stalled parade near the entrance. A jet black Humvee pulled into the VIP space, and out stepped an actor in his early twenties. I had watched this guy grow up on The Wonder Years. Three gorgeous party girls climbed out behind him. I thought to myself: one of these days, Jim, one of these lost and lonely days, that will be you, pal.
A female reporter walked up to our table. Her cameraman stood near the curb.
"Is Jim Asher here?" she asked.
I was surprised. "I'm Jim Asher."
She smiled wistfully, batting her eyelashes. "Well, I told you I'd show up. I'm Samantha Gellhorne from Channel Seven."
"Great." I remembered her. She was the only reporter who had taken a minute to talk with me earlier on the phone — a random, blistering conversation about Kerouac's On the Road. Samantha was in her midthirties and quite attractive, with long cinnamon brown hair and green eyes. I could tell from her loose mannerisms and sultry voice that she'd been around the partying side of town. A lot.
"If I remember right, Jim, you owe me a drink," she said.
Michelle shot me a concerned glance.
"Oh, that's right," I said. "I'll see you inside. Thanks for coming, Samantha."
She took her press pass and disappeared into the bar with her cameraman.
Michelle turned to me. "You promised her a drink if she would come?"
"I was afraid nobody would show up."
Michelle was clearly perturbed. She was a strict conservative, raised in a Mormon family and married to a Republican lawyer in DC. She thought reporters were scum and only tolerated them to the extent necessary.
"Well, I guess it worked," she said. "But you better be careful, Jim. Samantha Gellhorne covers our Senate campaign, and she was obviously flirting."
"I'll be careful."
Michelle and I moved inside when the event began. It was my first sip of after-hours politics — my first taste of how things really work. We sat down at a small table.
"Do you want a drink?" I asked Michelle.
"I don't really drink. My husband doesn't like me to."
"Just one. Most of our work's done. We just have to keep an eye on the reporters now."
"Okay," she said. "Just one."
I brought back four rum and Cokes. Michelle was pretty. She was only twenty-one, and she had already worked as a copywriter for CNN. She didn't seem to like or trust people much — at least not in the normal superficial way — but she seemed willing to give me a chance.
"Jim, I understand you graduated from high school early," Michelle asked.
"Who told you that?"
"Ted and John. The office isn't that big, you know. Word gets around fast. Everyone's always scoping out the new person, trying to size them up. I'm just glad it's you now, instead of me. I've been the new person for the last two months."
"Happy to ease your burden," I said. "Yeah, I did graduate early. And I've heard the same about you."
"GATE program," she said. "I graduated when I was fifteen."
"I was sixteen. I'll never forget my first day of college. Everyone seemed so old; they had beards, and families, and houses. I barely had my driver's license. I felt so out of place."
Michelle nodded.
At this point, I had not even met our candidate, Edward Winston. The campaign had hundreds of employees scattered around the state, and Winston had been on the trail for weeks. I really wanted to make a good impression whenever I finally met him. Just having a conversation with a multimillionaire Senate candidate would be a cool experience. When Winston finally came onstage for a short speech, I couldn't even hear him over the rowdy bar crowd. Then he was whisked away to catch a flight for New York. Michelle and I, being the only press staffers at the event, decided to try our hands at "spinning" the reporters. We strolled down to the press stage, where all the cameras were set up.
Michelle asked me if I had ever spun reporters before.
"Not really," I admitted.
"It's easy," she said. "Just make small talk. Then slip in a few nice words about Winston."
"Okay. I'm a pretty smooth talker."
The reporters were busy gossiping among themselves and drinking beer. Now I knew why so many had shown up: all they had to do was file a quick fluff piece, beam it back to their stations, and they were free to party the night away. I gathered my confidence and walked up to a bearded reporter, interrupting his conversation with a cameraman.
"Hi, I'm Jim Asher from the Winston campaign. How did you like the speech?"
He looked me over with a condescending grin. "Whatever, kid."
I nodded, said, "Nice to meet you," then slithered away. I felt like a fool. Who was I kidding? These reporters didn't fuck around. I wandered around the press area, afraid to approach anyone. Meanwhile, Michelle was chatting up some cameraman. I knew I was out of my league — a punk kid in a $189 Men's Wearhouse suit trying to play grown-up.
Then Samantha grabbed my arm.
"What about that drink, Jim?"
Her lovely smile vaporized the humiliation. "Sure."
She tucked her arm through mine, and we walked to the bar — I strutted. Samantha seemed to know everyone as we passed through the buzzing suits and cocktail dresses. She stopped behind a balding man who was the centerpiece of his circle. She reached down and pinched his ass; his head spun sharply, but when he saw it was Samantha, he smiled.
"Hello, Dick," she said, kissing his cheek.
He squeezed her waist. "Hi, honey."
She turned and introduced me, but I already recognized him.
"Jim Asher," Samantha said, "this is Los Angeles Mayor Richard Tarken."
My hand shot out. "Very nice to meet you, sir."
He barely glanced at me before turning back to Samantha. "Another boy toy, Samantha?"
She rubbed my arm. "He works for Winston."
The mayor grinned at me. I got the picture.
Samantha and I finally made it to the bar. The crowd was swarming three deep for drinks.
"What'll it be?" I asked.
Samantha stood up on a bar stool and waved to the busy bartender. He dropped what he was doing and rushed over.
"Hey, Samantha." He leaned all the way over the bar and kissed her cheek. "How's my favorite party girl-reporter?"
"Good, Freddy," she winked. "We'll have six tequila shots and two Pacificos with lime."
I don't know if my chin actually hit the bar. "You don't mess around, huh?"
"Not at my age, babe. I live like I want to. If you wanna do well in this game, you'll do the same. Take it from Samantha. Don't try to spin these reporters with a bunch of shit. They'll chew your cute little ass off. You haven't been around yet."
I nodded. I was being schooled on exactly what schools don't teach.
"Here's to Jim Asher," she said. "You're gonna go far, babe. I've got a sense about these things."
I had watched this woman on TV since I was in junior high. She was one of the top reporters in the LA market. But somehow, from the start, it felt like Samantha and I were friends who'd simply been waiting to meet. We clanked glasses and slammed the shots. The tequila was smooth, almost pleasing. I reached for my Pacifico, but Samantha caught my hand gently.
"Not yet, Jimmy. Two more shots to get warm."
I knew I was in for it. "I've gotta be at work by five o'clock tomorrow morning, Samantha."
"Don't worry, I'll make sure you get there. Just tell 'em you were with me."
Like that would help.
We downed more liquor. Soon enough, she was hanging all over me, and I was hanging all over her. We were both smoking Marlboro red dogs, and the bar scene was blurring into a glittery surreal backdrop of melodic conversation. But people were beginning to notice, including some of Edward's campaign staff. I was making a spectacle of myself.
"Do you wanna get out of here?" she suddenly asked.
"Yeah. Hold on a sec. I have to check on something."
I searched the bar until I found Michelle, sitting by herself. "I'm taking off."
"Where?" Michelle asked.
"For a little drive." I tossed her my car keys; she had driven with me. "Just park it at the campaign. I'll catch a lift home."
She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "You're not going home with that...that reporter, are you, Jim?"
"Of course not." I kissed Michelle on the forehead and hustled back to Samantha, half expecting her to be gone. But she was still at the bar, now surrounded by a pack of middle-aged, chain-smoking male print reporters.
I approached the group hesitantly.
"Hey, there he is!" Samantha sang out to me. "My little Republican man." She stretched out her arms. "Come here, Jimmy."
The reporters eyed me suspiciously.
I had to act fast.
"How 'bout a round of beers," I offered. "Compliments of the Winston campaign."
Frowns and folded arms suddenly turned into smiles and slaps on the back. The reporters welcomed me into their distinctive circle. I took out the campaign's gold credit card, which I was authorized to use for "schmoozing."
A reporter named Paul Duran from the Daily News shook my hand. He was short and sloppy. This guy was a vintage old-school reporter — loose tie, rolled sleeves, cigar in his pocket, an alcoholic's nose.
"What do you do for Winston?" he asked.
"Press," I said.
"How long you been with him?"
"Not too long."
Paul pulled me aside. Samantha was busy talking to some reporter. "So, really, what's the guy like?" Paul asked.
"He's a great guy," I said. Of course, I hadn't met my own candidate, but I had to say something.
Paul glanced around, as if one of his reporter buddies might be eavesdropping. "Is Winston weird?"
"Weird?"
"You know." He held his hand out with a limp wrist. "Weird."
"Oh...Oh, no. I don't think so."
Paul's interest seemed to wane slightly. "It's just that we're hearing rumors."
"Oh."
Paul slipped me his card. "Thanks for the drink, Jim. Look, I don't have anyone inside your campaign yet. So gimme a call early next week."
Before I put the card in my pocket, I flipped it over. His home and cellular numbers were scribbled on the back in red ink.
An hour later, Samantha and I were flying a hundred miles an hour up Pacific Coast Highway, passing each other a hollowed-out pineapple full of tasty rum and juice — a parting gift from Freddy the bartender. The top was off her black Lamborghini Diablo VT, and the warm summer night's air was salty and alive as it rushed around me. Samantha drove the car recklessly, steering into sharp corners like we were in a slot car.
"Slow down!" I shouted over the engine.
She mashed down on the gas, pasting my head against the leather seat. We hit the next sweeping corner at eighty-five. I closed my eyes and clutched the handgrip, sure this would be my last breath.
"If we're gonna die," she shouted, "might as well be fast and drunk!" She actually accelerated into the turn, wheels screeching, flinging me against the door. The next thing I knew we were on a long straightaway. I let my breath out. Samantha cranked up Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" on the CD player and danced in her seat. I had never been in a Lamborghini before. And for some reason I wasn't worried about the police pulling Samantha over. I felt like we were above that, somewhere in that realm of celebrity where things are different than they are for those of us who drive Fords and eat drive-thru tacos.
"Isn't this fun, Jimmy?" she giggled.
I lit a smoke and laughed up into the bended dome of blurry stars. The whole night seemed wondrously out of my control. Samantha hung a sharp right off PCH and headed up into the hills overlooking the ocean. The Diablo's tires seemed to be coated with rubber cement as we raced up the narrow winding road, no guardrails. As we tore through the rich hills of Pacific Palisades, Samantha pointed out all the celebrity homes. She pulled into a long driveway. The house at the end was enormous. Its exterior was entirely stained wood, with large fern-draped balconies and a sprawling lawn that dropped into bleached white sea cliffs. Samantha parked behind a black BMW, flipped off her high heels, and raced up to the house.
"Come on, Jimmy. Come on!"
I raised the vertical door and climbed out of the low-sitting sports car. The house seemed too big for Samantha's television reporter salary. Then I saw a sparkling blue Lotus parked in front of the BMW in the open garage.
"Do you live alone?" I asked.
She smiled. "Come inside."
I took a deep breath and followed her up the brick path to the front door. When I stepped inside, I saw a huge bar in the middle of the living room. It was about thirty feet long, similar to the main bar at Billboard Live.
"Nice," I said sarcastically. "A bar in your living room?"
She grabbed my hand and dragged me over to a bar stool. "This is a very famous bar," she said. "Do you know that Jerry Woods used to be my bartender at parties, even when he was still governor."
"Wow."
She pointed to a picture on the wall. A nearby neon Budweiser sign lit up the frame — and sure enough, there was ex-California governor Jerry Woods mixing up daiquiris with Samantha kissing his cheek.
Samantha sighed. "The eighties were so much fun. Now everyone's too uptight." She pointed out the window. "See that Jacuzzi?" A redwood hot tub was perched on the cliff. "We used to throw wild coke parties out there, with all the governor's people, the mayor's people, movie stars, and a lot of your Republican friends."
At this point I wondered if Samantha knew how young I was. She was clearly drunk, but I could tell she had been there many times. In fact, she seemed to thrive there. Her clothes were attractive and her body was shapely. Chestnut freckles sprinkled her tan chest, but under her makeup, her pretty face was thinly lined from years of living this life I was seeing.
She walked behind the bar and flipped on the stereo. Led Zeppelin. She plugged in one of her five blenders. "How 'bout some margaritas?"
I glanced at my watch. "I've gotta be back in Orange County in four hours."
"That's why you need margaritas, babe. If you sleep now, you're fucked. Mornings are like corners, you've got to accelerate into them."
Seemed wise enough to me. "Mix 'em up," I said. I strolled around the downstairs with my hands in my pockets. The place was huge and well appointed — pool table, jukebox, big-screen TV. "So, this is your house?"
"Yeah. My father was a rich banker. When he died, he left everything to yours truly."
"So you've never been married?"
"Why would I?"
We finished off the pitcher. Then another. She sauntered over to my chair and sat on my lap, straddling me with her black skirt raised and crumpled around her hips.
"So what do you think?" she asked.
"About what?"
"About me." She kissed my neck.
"You're great," I said. "Fun...and pretty."
She kissed my cheek. "Let's go play in the hot tub."
Slowly, she pulled back and unbuttoned her silk blouse, letting it fall behind her. She leaned in, breathing seductively, and whispered, "Jimmy, can you make me moan tonight?"
I glanced over at the picture of the governor. He looked drunk now, and I pictured him passed out on Samantha's couch with some naked actress at his side. I thought about the others back at the campaign office. Did they know about this? Did they know about this side of politics — the fun side, the exciting side? If so, they had never mentioned it to me. I was operating on my own, making it up as I went. I could already see how politics was going to work. The power would come fast and loose if I could get in with the right people, like Samantha. Reporters and politicians needed one another. I pictured myself as the man in between. Why hadn't anyone else thought of it? Of course they had, but it's the kind of thing nobody talks about. It was at that moment, then, staring down at Samantha's naked white breasts, so far from where I was a month before, so close to my dreams I could literally touch them, that I saw my future — vividly.
I would streak to the top of the political arena with blistering speed, blowing a hole directly through the standard pay-your-dues career structure. I had no interest in paying any dues, wasting time. I wanted to be at the top — debating Democrats on talk shows, roaming the halls of Congress like I owned them, altering legislation with a single phone call, shooting the shit with senators, advising the president — and I wanted it now. I had a clear open road ahead of me. I knew I wasn't doing anything morally or ethically wrong; I was simply going at politics from a newer, faster angle.
I peeled off my clothes, slammed the icy froth at the bottom of the margarita pitcher, and followed Samantha outside. As I walked naked under the stars, the warm night air made me feel free. Samantha pushed the cover off the hot tub. Steam rose from the water as we plunged in. Within two seconds we were going at it, mouths locked together, hands racing over each other's bodies. Samantha panted in my ear and groped me. She reached up on the deck and grabbed the new full pitcher of margaritas. With one hand she pulled me up behind her. She bent over the edge of the tub slowly, seductively. Then she poured the thick drink over her shoulder, letting it run down her shapely back. She asked me to lick it off. Unbelievable.

Copyright © 1998 by Tom Lowe

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First Chapter

Chapter One

I had just returned from a summer in Europe and had no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life. After four years on my own, with little to show for it, I was back living with my parents. But with Disneyland ten minutes away, Hollywood just up the 405, and the waves pounding the shore right off our porch, Newport Beach was my kind of town -- larger than life, self-mythologizing.

I came in from the beach one weekday afternoon and hosed off my surfboard. My mom was reading on our back porch.

"How's the water, sweetheart?" she asked.

"A little chilly," I said. "Nothing like the Mediterranean in June." I draped a towel over my shoulders, sat down at the patio table, and poured myself an iced tea. "Why are you home from work so early, Mom?"

"I had a parent conference this afternoon. One of my kids is having some emotional problems; he's been kicking other students."

"Fun."

My mom was a counsellor for severely handicapped kids at the local high school. I had worked as an aide in her classroom when I went there. Of course, she always gave me great recommendations. I loved my mom more than anyone; she seemed perfect in all respects.

"Have you given any more thought to what we were talking about?" she asked.

"Yeah, I guess. I mean, I like kids, and being a teacher sounds pretty good, but there's no money in it."

"Well, that's true. But, Jim, you wouldn't have to do it forever. I could help you get your credentials in about two months, and then you could just teach until you decide what you really want to do. You'd have your summers off."

"I guess. I'm still thinking about it. But I don't wanna live at home forever. I need to make somand from the beach. I leaned back and relinquished my brain to the television, ready to burn away a few hours. Just then, a clever political ad came on for Edward Winston, labeling his opponent, California Senator Dana Steadfield, as "the liberal Democrat who loves to spend your money."

I was a political junkie, so I always kept up with everything in politics, but my time in Europe had put me slightly out of the loop. "Who is this Edward Winston guy?" I asked Jake.

"He's some rich guy running for the Senate. He has like four hundred million dollars. He's been destroying Senator Steadfield with these attack ads all summer. I think she's starting to slip in the polls."

"Good. It's about time someone stepped up to the plate. Steadfield is such a big, liberal bitch. I'd love to see her get booted out of Washington."

"Dude, you'd be amazed at all the ads Winston is running. You can't even turn on the TV without seeing one. I heard he's gonna spend whatever it takes to win."

Now that would be a cool place to work. I walked into my bedroom and dialed information.

"Hello, what city, please?" the operator asked.

"Uh...I don't know," I said.

"What listing, please?"

"Winston Senate campaign."

"Hold, please..." A few seconds passed. "I don't have anything for that."

"Okay, give me the Republican Party's phone number in Orange County."

"Hold, please..."

I called the GOP headquarters and got the address for the Winston campaign office in Santa Ana, only ten minutes away. I threw on some cheap slacks with suspenders and a tie -- I wanted to look like Michael Douglas in Wall Street -- and drove to Santa Ana. I was feeling spontaneous. What did I have to lose?

Once I found the correct address, I parked my Ford Probe and strolled up to the three-story building, which looked like any other mirrored office complex. I went through the lobby and up to the third floor. My heart was pumping. An engraved gold plaque on the door read: EDWARD WINSTON, US SENATE. When I walked through the door, I saw all kinds of commotion -- everyone was running around talking to at least two or three people at the same time; dozens of fax machines were whizzing and screaming; a camera crew from Channel 4 was setting up to interview someone; and the beautiful young receptionist was staring at me, as if to say, Do you have any idea what you're getting into?

After sitting around for an hour, I was shuffled into the volunteer coordinator's office. He was a short guy named Ted. Pictures of Ronald Reaganwallpapered his office. I was very nervous as I sat down.

"So," he said, "the receptionist tells me you want to volunteer, huh?"

"Well, actually, I'm looking for a job."

"We don't hire people off the streets. Um, that's not to say you're a street person...uh...how did you hear about the campaign?"

"I saw one of those ads you're running on TV."

He grinned. "Pretty awesome, aren't they. Did you see the illegal alien one?"

"No. I saw the 'Democrat who loves to spend your money' one."

He laughed out loud. "That one's great! God, do I love that one!"

He had me smiling. This Ted guy, sitting there in his Ralph Lauren shirt, flanked by images of Reagan, was the real deal: a big-shot political player. But at the same time, I was keenly aware that I could do his job better than him. Not to brag, because there are extreme downsides to being a highly intelligent and lucid thinker -- Dostoy evsky called it a curse -- but since my earliest memories, I had always been aware of my abilities, and I always believed that if I was given a fair chance, in any situation, I could excel past everyone.

"Well," Ted said, glancing down at my résumé, "Jim...Well, Jim, it says here you were in the army."

"Four years."

"You're a Persian Gulf veteran, eh?"

"Yep."

"Well, you guys did a great job over there, I gotta tell you. I used to stay up all night watching CNN. Amazing. So, anyway, what other campaigns have you worked, Jim?"

"Actually, this will be my first. But I've been into politics ever since I can remember. In fact, when I was a kid, I would always skip Voltron or Tom & Jerry to catch Brinkley or Face the Nation. My neighborhood buddies thought it was a little strange."

"I know what you're saying. Great. And I see you have an English degree. Where do you picture yourself ten years from now, Jim?"

"Probably in the White House."

"What, as president?"

"No, no. I'm not exactly sure; maybe a spokesman. I've just always wanted to work in politics, especially at the White House."

"We have several people on this campaign who've worked at the White House."

"Really?"

"Really. So, Jim, why are you a Republican?"

"Well, my parents are Republicans. I've always been a Republican. I grew up here in Orange County. I hate high taxes, gun control, illegal immigration, welfare..." Not very eloquent so far.

"What do your parents do?"

"My pop works for UPS and my mom's a schoolteacher."

"That's respectable. Well, you seem bright. I think our issues director, John Griggs, could use some help. Are you interested in that?"

"Sure," I said, not really knowing what an issues director was.

Ted led me through the bustling hallways like a safari guide. The campaign took up the entire third floor. "That's Jeff," he said, pointing to a short, nerdy guy. "He does Edward's and Mariella's scheduling."

"Who is Mariella?" I asked.

"You don't know Mariella?"

"No."

"You will," he grinned. "She's the candidate's wife."

"Oh."

Ted pointed out everyone along the way. There were advance people, media people, field people, mail people, advertising people. Everyone looked at me when I walked by. Not friendly, not mean. Yet not too busy to stare.

"Where is the main campaign headquarters?" I asked.

"This is it, buddy. You're in the eye of the storm here."

Wow, I thought. This was exactly the opportunity I had been waiting for.

We found our way to the issues office. The place was a wreck, with newspapers, coffee cups, three-ring binders -- there was shit everywhere. Sitting behind the desk was a man in his late twenties, moderately good-looking, about six three, built like a football player a few years after playing football, with messy hair and a friendly smile.

"John Griggs," Ted said to him. "This is Jim Asher. He wants to volunteer."

I trampled across the cluttered floor and shook John's hand. He had a pen behind each ear, hundreds of highlighted books and magazine articles scattered on his desk, and a purple juice stain on his shirt.

"Nice to meet you," I said nervously.

"Hey," he said. "How's it going."

Ted seemed eager to get back to his work. "You guys hang out and get to know each other. John here does all the issues and some of the speech writing for Mr. Winston. Come see me before you leave, okay, Jim?" Then Ted was gon e.

"So," John said. "You want to do issues?"

"Sure."

"Good. I can really use the help. This campaign is kind of crazy. The candidate is spending millions of dollars, but you'll notice that things are a bit disorganized. Sometimes the elbow isn't talking to the hand, if you know what I mean."

I nodded. I didn't know if now was the time to ask, but I did anyway. "Is this a paying job?"

"Um, I don't think so." He paused. "But let me give you some advice. A smart guy once told me this, and one year later I was working at the White House -- "

"You worked at the White House?"

"Three years, for Bush."

"What did you do?"

"I was in the White House communications office. I wrote the president's news summary every morning."

"So you must have worked under Marlin Fitzwater, then?"

"That's right," John said. He looked pleasantly surprised that I should know such a thing. "So, anyway, here's the advice: make yourself useful and you'll make yourself indispensable."

"Who told you that?"

"Bill Bennett."

"Impressive. So, when do I start?"

"Six o'clock tomorrow morning," he said. "I'll start you out going through newspapers, searching for clips. You'll cut out and photocopy any article about this campaign, or any issues that might be relevant -- crime, welfare, illegal immigration, whatever. It's not that difficult, just time-consuming. And who knows, if you work hard and show up on time every day, they might even hire you to do the clips full-time."

"That'd be great. Thanks a lot, Mr. Griggs. I'll be here at six."

"Just call me John."

I drove home singing. I felt high and full of energy. It wasn't a paying job, but it was a foot in the door, and I knew that was all I needed. The 55 freeway was bumper to bumper with traffic. Some asshole in a Lexus cut into my lane, but I didn't even flip him off. Normally, when someone snaked me on the freeway, I would dream of hanging out through my sunroof with a rocket launcher. I would push the trigger, and the rocket would streak through the air and slam into their trunk, tearing through the sheet metal, then ripping through the backseat before the secondary charge exploded and turned the entire luxury car into a two-ton fragmentation grenade, blasting the discourteous driver into hundreds of flying scraps...but not today. No. Instead, I smiled and turned up the radio. I had something new and exciting in my life.

When I got home I told my mom about the campaign and everything I'd seen.

"That's great, Jim. How much does it pay?" she asked.

"Nothing at first. It's kind of a volunteer thing for now. But if I work hard, my new boss, this guy named John Griggs, who worked at the White House, said they might hire me full-time. And then, who knows..."

"That's terrific, sweetheart. Your father and I figured you'd probably find your way into politics sooner or later. Why don't you call him at work and tell him the good news."

"It's not that big a deal, Mom. I'll just wait till he gets home."

"Well, I'm proud of you."

"Thanks. I think I'm gonna hit the mall and start reading some newspapers and magazines. I need to get up to speed on politics if I'm gonna be a big wheeler-dealer."

My mom smiled.

"By the way, could you spot me a twenty until I can pay you back? My car's out of gas."

"Sure." She got her purse and gave me the money. "Just add it to the tab. You can pay me back when you're rich and famous."

"Thanks, Mom. " I hated asking, but I was flat broke.

***

Fast-forward a month to a Thursday night in Hollywood. I was now working full-time for the Winston campaign. The candidate's lovely and ambitious wife, Mariella, had moved me from the issues office to the press office. She seemed to like me. Even the campaign manager, Chuck, had to be informed of my new position. Things happened much faster than I had expected. All I had to do was pledge my loyalty as a conservative through informal conversations around the office, demonstrate that I was one of them, work very long hours, be smart and useful to as many people as possible, and I was absorbed into the campaign. Just like that. For all they knew, I could have been a Democrat spy. There was no official screening process that I saw.

On this particular night, the campaign had rented out the Billboard Live nightclub for a campaign event called "Winston Rocks LA." A pretty lame attempt at courting so-called Gen-X voters, but at least I was out of the office for a few hours. I had spent the whole day pitching reporters on the telephone: "Hello, this is Jim Asher from the Winston campaign, and I just wanted to let you know that Edward Winston is holding an important event tonight at Billboard Live...blah, blah, blah." Unfortunately, most of my pitch calls were cut off by a quick slam of the reporter's phone, making me feel like a slimy cold-calling stockbroker. I was terrified that no one would show up. But luckily, every station in town sent a camera crew, and most sent reporters as well. My job was to kiss the reporters' asses and say nice things about Edward Winston. Easy enough.

I had a folding table outside, where another press assistant named Michelle and I issued passes to the media. Limousines were lined up in a stalled parade near the entrance. A jet black Humvee pulled into the VIP space, and out stepped an actor in his early twenties. I had watched this guy grow up on The Wonder Years. Three gorgeous party girls climbed out behind him. I thought to myself: one of these days, Jim, one of these lost and lonely days, that will be you, pal.

A female reporter walked up to our table. Her cameraman stood near the curb.

"Is Jim Asher here?" she asked.

I was surprised. "I'm Jim Asher."

She smiled wistfully, batting her eyelashes. "Well, I told you I'd show up. I'm Samantha Gellhorne from Channel Seven."

"Great." I remembered her. She was the only reporter who had taken a minute to talk with me earlier on the phone -- a random, blistering conversation about Kerouac's On the Road. Samantha was in her midthirties and quite attractive, with long cinnamon brown hair and green eyes. I could tell from her loose mannerisms and sultry voice that she'd been around the partying side of town. A lot.

"If I remember right, Jim, you owe me a drink," she said.

Michelle shot me a concerned glance.

"Oh, that's right," I said. "I'll see you inside. Thanks for coming, Samantha."

She took her press pass and disappeared into the bar with her cameraman.

Michelle turned to me. "You promised her a drink if she would come?"

"I was afraid nobody would show up."

Michelle was clearly perturbed. She was a strict conservative, raised in a Mormon family and married to a Republican lawyer in DC. She thought reporters were scum and only tolerated them to the extent necessary.

"Well, I guess it worked," she said. "But you better be careful, Jim. Samantha Gellhorne covers our Senate campaign, and she was obviously flirting."

"I'll be careful."

Michelle and I moved inside when the event began. It was my first sip of after-hours politics -- my first taste of how things really work. We sat down at a small table.

"Do you want a drink?" I asked Michelle.

"I don't really drink. My husband doesn't like me to."

"Just one. Most of our work's done. We just have to keep an eye on the reporters now."

"Okay," she said. "Just one."

I brought back four rum and Cokes. Michelle was pretty. She was only twenty-one, and she had already worked as a copywriter for CNN. She didn't seem to like or trust people much -- at least not in the normal superficial way -- but she seemed willing to give me a chance.

"Jim, I understand you graduated from high school early," Michelle asked.

"Who told you that?"

"Ted and John. The office isn't that big, you know. Word gets around fast. Everyone's always scoping out the new person, trying to size them up. I'm just glad it's you now, instead of me. I've been the new person for the last two months."

"Happy to ease your burden," I said. "Yeah, I did graduate early. And I've heard the same about you."

"GATE program," she said. "I graduated when I was fifteen."

"I was sixteen. I'll never forget my first day of college. Everyone seemed so old; they had beards, and families, and houses. I barely had my driver's license. I felt so out of place."

Michelle nodded.

At this point, I had not even met our candidate, Edward Winston. The campaign had hundreds of employees scattered around the state, and Winston had been on the trail for weeks. I really wanted to make a good impression whenever I finally met him. Just having a conversation with a multimillionaire Senate candidate would be a cool experience. When Winston finally came onstage for a short speech, I couldn't even hear him over the rowdy bar crowd. Then he was whisked away to catch a flight for New York. Michelle and I, being the only press staffers at the event, decided to try our hands at "spinning" the reporters. We strolled down to the press stage, where all the cameras were set up.

Michelle asked me if I had ever spun reporters before.

"Not really," I admitted.

"It's easy," she said. "Just make small talk. Then slip in a few nice words about Winston."

"Okay. I'm a pretty smooth talker."

The reporters were busy gossiping among themselves and drinking beer. Now I knew why so many had shown up: all they had to do was file a quick fluff piece, beam it back to their stations, and they were free to party the night away. I gathered my confidence and walked up to a bearded reporter, interrupting his conversation with a cameraman.

"Hi, I'm Jim Asher from the Winston campaign. How did you like the speech?"

He looked me over with a condescending grin. "Whatever, kid."

I nodded, said, "Nice to meet you," then slithered away. I felt like a fool. Who was I kidding? These reporters didn't fuck around. I wandered around the press area, afraid to approach anyone. Meanwhile, Michelle was chatting up some cameraman. I knew I was out of my league -- a punk kid in a $189 Men's Wearhouse suit trying to play grown-up.

Then Samantha grabbed my arm.

"What about that drink, Jim?"

Her lovely smile vaporized the humiliation. "Sure."

She tucked her arm through mine, and we walked to the bar -- I strutted. Samantha seemed to know everyone as we pa ssed through the buzzing suits and cocktail dresses. She stopped behind a balding man who was the centerpiece of his circle. She reached down and pinched his ass; his head spun sharply, but when he saw it was Samantha, he smiled.

"Hello, Dick," she said, kissing his cheek.

He squeezed her waist. "Hi, honey."

She turned and introduced me, but I already recognized him.

"Jim Asher," Samantha said, "this is Los Angeles Mayor Richard Tarken."

My hand shot out. "Very nice to meet you, sir."

He barely glanced at me before turning back to Samantha. "Another boy toy, Samantha?"

She rubbed my arm. "He works for Winston."

The mayor grinned at me. I got the picture.

Samantha and I finally made it to the bar. The crowd was swarming three deep for drinks.

"What'll it be?" I asked.

Samantha stood up on a bar stool and waved to the busy bartender. He dropped what he was doing and rushed over.

"Hey, Samantha." He leaned all the way over the bar and kissed her cheek. "How's my favorite party girl-reporter?"

"Good, Freddy," she winked. "We'll have six tequila shots and two Pacificos with lime."

I don't know if my chin actually hit the bar. "You don't mess around, huh?"

"Not at my age, babe. I live like I want to. If you wanna do well in this game, you'll do the same. Take it from Samantha. Don't try to spin these reporters with a bunch of shit. They'll chew your cute little ass off. You haven't been around yet."

I nodded. I was being schooled on exactly what schools don't teach.

"Here's to Jim Asher," she said. "You're gonna go far, babe. I've got a sense about these things."

I had watched this woman on TV since I was in junior high. She was one of the top reporters in the LA market . But somehow, from the start, it felt like Samantha and I were friends who'd simply been waiting to meet. We clanked glasses and slammed the shots. The tequila was smooth, almost pleasing. I reached for my Pacifico, but Samantha caught my hand gently.

"Not yet, Jimmy. Two more shots to get warm."

I knew I was in for it. "I've gotta be at work by five o'clock tomorrow morning, Samantha."

"Don't worry, I'll make sure you get there. Just tell 'em you were with me."

Like that would help.

We downed more liquor. Soon enough, she was hanging all over me, and I was hanging all over her. We were both smoking Marlboro red dogs, and the bar scene was blurring into a glittery surreal backdrop of melodic conversation. But people were beginning to notice, including some of Edward's campaign staff. I was making a spectacle of myself.

"Do you wanna get out of here?" she suddenly asked.

"Yeah. Hold on a sec. I have to check on something."

I searched the bar until I found Michelle, sitting by herself. "I'm taking off."

"Where?" Michelle asked.

"For a little drive." I tossed her my car keys; she had driven with me. "Just park it at the campaign. I'll catch a lift home."

She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "You're not going home with that...that reporter, are you, Jim?"

"Of course not." I kissed Michelle on the forehead and hustled back to Samantha, half expecting her to be gone. But she was still at the bar, now surrounded by a pack of middle-aged, chain-smoking male print reporters.

I approached the group hesitantly.

"Hey, there he is!" Samantha sang out to me. "My little Republican man." She stretched out her arms. "Come here, Jimmy."

The reporters eyed me suspici ously.

I had to act fast.

"How 'bout a round of beers," I offered. "Compliments of the Winston campaign."

Frowns and folded arms suddenly turned into smiles and slaps on the back. The reporters welcomed me into their distinctive circle. I took out the campaign's gold credit card, which I was authorized to use for "schmoozing."

A reporter named Paul Duran from the Daily News shook my hand. He was short and sloppy. This guy was a vintage old-school reporter -- loose tie, rolled sleeves, cigar in his pocket, an alcoholic's nose.

"What do you do for Winston?" he asked.

"Press," I said.

"How long you been with him?"

"Not too long."

Paul pulled me aside. Samantha was busy talking to some reporter. "So, really, what's the guy like?" Paul asked.

"He's a great guy," I said. Of course, I hadn't met my own candidate, but I had to say something.

Paul glanced around, as if one of his reporter buddies might be eavesdropping. "Is Winston weird?"

"Weird?"

"You know." He held his hand out with a limp wrist. "Weird."

"Oh...Oh, no. I don't think so."

Paul's interest seemed to wane slightly. "It's just that we're hearing rumors."

"Oh."

Paul slipped me his card. "Thanks for the drink, Jim. Look, I don't have anyone inside your campaign yet. So gimme a call early next week."

Before I put the card in my pocket, I flipped it over. His home and cellular numbers were scribbled on the back in red ink.

An hour later, Samantha and I were flying a hundred miles an hour up Pacific Coast Highway, passing each other a hollowed-out pineapple full of tasty rum and juice -- a parting gift from Freddy the bartender. The top was off her black Lamborghini Diablo VT, and the warm summer night's air was salty and alive as it rushed around me. Samantha drove the car recklessly, steering into sharp corners like we were in a slot car.

"Slow down!" I shouted over the engine.

She mashed down on the gas, pasting my head against the leather seat. We hit the next sweeping corner at eighty-five. I closed my eyes and clutched the handgrip, sure this would be my last breath.

"If we're gonna die," she shouted, "might as well be fast and drunk!" She actually accelerated into the turn, wheels screeching, flinging me against the door. The next thing I knew we were on a long straightaway. I let my breath out. Samantha cranked up Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" on the CD player and danced in her seat. I had never been in a Lamborghini before. And for some reason I wasn't worried about the police pulling Samantha over. I felt like we were above that, somewhere in that realm of celebrity where things are different than they are for those of us who drive Fords and eat drive-thru tacos.

"Isn't this fun, Jimmy?" she giggled.

I lit a smoke and laughed up into the bended dome of blurry stars. The whole night seemed wondrously out of my control. Samantha hung a sharp right off PCH and headed up into the hills overlooking the ocean. The Diablo's tires seemed to be coated with rubber cement as we raced up the narrow winding road, no guardrails. As we tore through the rich hills of Pacific Palisades, Samantha pointed out all the celebrity homes. She pulled into a long driveway. The house at the end was enormous. Its exterior was entirely stained wood, with large fern-draped balconies and a sprawling lawn that dropped into bleached white sea cliffs. Samantha parked behind a black BMW, fli pped off her high heels, and raced up to the house.

"Come on, Jimmy. Come on!"

I raised the vertical door and climbed out of the low-sitting sports car. The house seemed too big for Samantha's television reporter salary. Then I saw a sparkling blue Lotus parked in front of the BMW in the open garage.

"Do you live alone?" I asked.

She smiled. "Come inside."

I took a deep breath and followed her up the brick path to the front door. When I stepped inside, I saw a huge bar in the middle of the living room. It was about thirty feet long, similar to the main bar at Billboard Live.

"Nice," I said sarcastically. "A bar in your living room?"

She grabbed my hand and dragged me over to a bar stool. "This is a very famous bar," she said. "Do you know that Jerry Woods used to be my bartender at parties, even when he was still governor."

"Wow."

She pointed to a picture on the wall. A nearby neon Budweiser sign lit up the frame -- and sure enough, there was ex-California governor Jerry Woods mixing up daiquiris with Samantha kissing his cheek.

Samantha sighed. "The eighties were so much fun. Now everyone's too uptight." She pointed out the window. "See that Jacuzzi?" A redwood hot tub was perched on the cliff. "We used to throw wild coke parties out there, with all the governor's people, the mayor's people, movie stars, and a lot of your Republican friends."

At this point I wondered if Samantha knew how young I was. She was clearly drunk, but I could tell she had been there many times. In fact, she seemed to thrive there. Her clothes were attractive and her body was shapely. Chestnut freckles sprinkled her tan chest, but under her makeup, her pretty face was thinly lined from years of living this life I was seeing.

She walked behind the bar and flipped on the stereo. Led Zeppelin. She plugged in one of her five blenders. "How 'bout some margaritas?"

I glanced at my watch. "I've gotta be back in Orange County in four hours."

"That's why you need margaritas, babe. If you sleep now, you're fucked. Mornings are like corners, you've got to accelerate into them."

Seemed wise enough to me. "Mix 'em up," I said. I strolled around the downstairs with my hands in my pockets. The place was huge and well appointed -- pool table, jukebox, big-screen TV. "So, this is your house?"

"Yeah. My father was a rich banker. When he died, he left everything to yours truly."

"So you've never been married?"

"Why would I?"

We finished off the pitcher. Then another. She sauntered over to my chair and sat on my lap, straddling me with her black skirt raised and crumpled around her hips.

"So what do you think?" she asked.

"About what?"

"About me." She kissed my neck.

"You're great," I said. "Fun...and pretty."

She kissed my cheek. "Let's go play in the hot tub."

Slowly, she pulled back and unbuttoned her silk blouse, letting it fall behind her. She leaned in, breathing seductively, and whispered, "Jimmy, can you make me moan tonight?"

I glanced over at the picture of the governor. He looked drunk now, and I pictured him passed out on Samantha's couch with some naked actress at his side. I thought about the others back at the campaign office. Did they know about this? Did they know about this side of politics -- the fun side, the exciting side? If so, they had never mentioned it to me. I was operating on my own, making it up as I went. I could already see how politics was going to work. The power would come fast and loose if I could get in with the right people, like Samantha. Reporters and politicians needed one another. I pictured myself as the man in between. Why hadn't anyone else thought of it? Of course they had, but it's the kind of thing nobody talks about. It was at that moment, then, staring down at Samantha's naked white breasts, so far from where I was a month before, so close to my dreams I could literally touch them, that I saw my future -- vividly.

I would streak to the top of the political arena with blistering speed, blowing a hole directly through the standard pay-your-dues career structure. I had no interest in paying any dues, wasting time. I wanted to be at the top -- debating Democrats on talk shows, roaming the halls of Congress like I owned them, altering legislation with a single phone call, shooting the shit with senators, advising the president -- and I wanted it now. I had a clear open road ahead of me. I knew I wasn't doing anything morally or ethically wrong; I was simply going at politics from a newer, faster angle.

I peeled off my clothes, slammed the icy froth at the bottom of the margarita pitcher, and followed Samantha outside. As I walked naked under the stars, the warm night air made me feel free. Samantha pushed the cover off the hot tub. Steam rose from the water as we plunged in. Within two seconds we were going at it, mouths locked together, hands racing over each other's bodies. Samantha panted in my ear and groped me. She reached up on the deck and grabbed the new full pitcher of margaritas. With one hand she pulled me up behind her. She bent over the edge of the tub slowly, seductively. Then she poured the thick drink over her shoulde r, letting it run down her shapely back. She asked me to lick it off. Unbelievable.

Copyright © 1998 by Tom Lowe

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