The Woody

( 3 )

Overview

Senator Woody White is being blackmailed by his wife, sued by his ex-wife, shaken down by a Vermont maple syrup kingpin, terrorized by his neo-fascist housekeeper, and dragged into litigation over a fender bender in the Senate parking garage. But when he is stricken with an ill-timed case of ED (Erectile Dysfunction), the desperate player faces his biggest campaign killer of all and goes to hilarious extremes to keep himself in the running. Peter Lefcourt holds a perfectly cracked mirror to the spin-filled world ...

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Overview

Senator Woody White is being blackmailed by his wife, sued by his ex-wife, shaken down by a Vermont maple syrup kingpin, terrorized by his neo-fascist housekeeper, and dragged into litigation over a fender bender in the Senate parking garage. But when he is stricken with an ill-timed case of ED (Erectile Dysfunction), the desperate player faces his biggest campaign killer of all and goes to hilarious extremes to keep himself in the running. Peter Lefcourt holds a perfectly cracked mirror to the spin-filled world of Washington's sexual politics and asks a penetrating question: How hard does a politician have to be?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Los Angeles Times This neon farce lights up the political spectrum....Smart, sexy, and just plain funny.

San Francisco Examiner Magazine A sterling, witty literary performance. Must reading for the Viagra Age.

USA Today An irreverent, amusing read.

Richard Ben Cramer Author of What It Takes and Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life Lefcourt raises the standard on great political novels.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Lefcourt heaps wild crisis upon wiId crisis and sends up politics so wickedly you can't help but laugh. You may not want to vote again anytime soon, but you'll laugh. Think Primary Colors as told by Carl Hiaasen....

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Senator Woodrow Wilson White--antihero of this slickly funny spoof--is in a tough reelection campaign. There's the ethics committee investigation into an old sexual harassment rap. There's the burgeoning affair between his photogenic second wife, Daphne, and a Finnish ice-skater named Sonja. There's his first wife's demand for a chunk of the advance the senator has received for his autobiography. There's the campaign itself, which is badly in need of funds. But Woody's real problem, as the novel begins, is less political and more personal: he's "flatlined" impotent with Evelyn Brandywynne, an attractive prophylactics lobbyist. Lefcourt takes all the disparate elements of the modern-day political scene--the constant search for funds, the schedule that reduces political commitments to senatorial horsetrading--and constructs a comedy with the polish of a very good TV skit, but one that has difficulty finding direction after the initial, establishing jokes. Yet Lefcourt, who specializes in the absurdist name-drop, makes a brave search, crosscutting between a gallery of dour Vermonters who seem to have leapt out of a Coen brothers movie and the D.C. scene, which in Lefcourt's version centers on a tight circle of gay staffers. The main joke here is that Ishmael, Senator White's chief of staff, is straight but is hiding it in order to find out the latest D.C. gab--and so it goes. Balzac it's not, but in his second novel in a row after Abbreviating Ernie to treat on penile anxieties, Lefcourt continues to show his talent for staging farce, Hollywood style. Nov.
Kirkus Reviews
Picaresque political farce from screenwriter Lefcourt (Abbreviating Ernie, 1997, etc.), featuring a crusty, thoroughly incompetent but roguishly charming antihero, Vermont Senator Woodrow Wilson ("Woody") White—-a failure at everything but survival. Woody White was once notorious on Capitol Hill as a man with a "zipper problem," that is, a compulsive seducer for whom sex with lobbyists, aides, and on the rarest occasions, his trophy-bride Daphne, is one more way of feeling loved. So why, in his vigorous fifth decade, does he find himself impotent with the beauteous Evelyn Brandwynne, a lobbyist representing condom manufacturers? Woody's not worried about his reelection campaign—-his overpaid consultants have summed up his trivial two- term career with a winning slogan: "Woody White, he's there!" His wife's affair with a female Finnish figure skater doesn't thrill him, but he's willing to ignore that as long as she'll wear that special dress that catches Clinton's eye at White House receptions. His previous wives only want their slice of the million advance he got from Random House to sign his name on a ghostwritten autobiography. Trent Lott wants cash, and Woody's support on bills Woody can't even remember, much less understand, in exchange for forgetting about the damage Woody did when, drunk on expensive wine, he rammed Lott's Ford Explorer in the Senate parking lot. If this weren't enough, one of Woody's major campaign contributors, the Vermont Maple Syrup Distributors Association, is a front for mobsters who name themselves after US presidents. Using his characteristic combination of breezy charisma and dumb luck, Woody manages to survive an ethics investigation, agenuinely worthy political opponent, and other foibles, imbroglios, and potential disasters, discovering, to his delight, that a peculiar procedure involving tape, shaving cream, and Brandwynne in a starched nurse's uniform cures impotence better than Viagra.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671038557
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/1/1999
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Lefcourt is the author of six previous novels: Eleven Karens, The Woody, Abbreviating Ernie, Di and I, The Dreyfus Affair and The Deal. He is also an award-winning writer for film and television.
He lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Peru

"Call me, Ishmael."

He folded the cell phone and flipped it onto the bed, twenty feet away from the tepid Jacuzzi in which he lay after having had what could best be described as an inconclusive sexual encounter with a lobbyist for the condom industry.

The lobbyist, Evelyn Brandwynne, exited the bathroom naked, speaking on her cell phone in a businesslike and decidedly non-postcoital tone of voice to her Washington office.

"The funding is dead. It's terminal. There's a sheet over its head..."

He watched her move slowly toward the bed with a glass of yellowing white wine and a Kleenex in her hand.

"No. I don't know...What time...? Shit."

She sat down on the bed and, the phone still at her ear, asked the man in the Jacuzzi, "When is the last shuttle out of Logan?"

"Nine."

She squinted at the Cartier watch on the night table and said into the phone, "I may just make it."

Evelyn Brandwynne used the Kleenex immodestly, then replied to her caller's question, "Working..."

There was a moment's hesitation before she delivered the punch line. "In Peru." And she folded her phone and began the search for the scattered articles of clothing removed maybe forty minutes ago, when she had begun to lobby the junior senator from Vermont.

"I don't mind traveling, Senator, but this is ridiculous. It takes days to get here."

She slipped into a pair of black lace panties and rummaged through the sheets looking for her bra.

"And it's not as if it's doing me any good, is it?" she remarked, now on all fours on the bed scrounging under the pillows.

The sight of a lobbyist from the National Association of Health Prophylaxis Industries facedown on his bed in nothing but a pair of black lace panties had a small but nonetheless stirring effect on Senator Woodrow Wilson White. But by then it was too little, too late. And, besides, he wasn't going to let her bill out of committee anyway, so why put both of them through this again?

She located her bra, slipped it on, and turned back to him with a look that was not without tenderness.

"I actually like you, Woody. I'd probably be doing this even if you weren't the ranking Democrat on that goddamn subcommittee..."

"Medicaid and Health Care."

"It's in the public interest. Smaller families, fewer tax deductions, a lot less AFDC."

"Medicaid isn't going to fund rubbers, Evelyn."

"Why not? You get it to the Floor, and the women love you."

"The women already love me. It's the dairy farmers and the loggers who don't love me, and they're not particularly interested in having the federal government subsidize the rubber industry."

"Health Prophylaxis."

"We're trying to balance the budget."

"Nobody ever got his face on Mount Rushmore by balancing the budget."

She zipped up her skirt, slipped her sweater and suit jacket on, and went over and sat down on the edge of the Jacuzzi. For a moment, she said nothing, just sat there with a finger absently stirring the water. Then, in a softer, more compassionate voice, she said, "Look, I think I'm supposed to say something now, like, you're working too hard or it happens to everyone..."

"Take Eleven east to Windham, One Twenty-one to Bellows Falls, then straight down Ninety-one to Springfield and across Ninety-five. You don't hit traffic, you'll make your plane."

For a moment she held his look, searching for something appropriate to say, and, finding nothing appropriate, she got up, blew him a kiss, and walked out.

Senator Woodrow Wilson White waited for the sound of the rental car on the gravel driveway before rising from his cold Jacuzzi and slipping into a fluffy terry-cloth robe.

He padded barefoot downstairs through the drafty A-frame into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and found the recorked bottle of rapidly turning white wine. He would have to lay in some wine with the firewood. Charge it to the entertainment-and-travel allowance, though you had to be careful ever since they tightened up the rules in '91 with the congressional-allowance bill that he, like everyone else in the Congress, had had to vote for.

The A-frame was located in the village of Peru, pronounced Pee-ru, seven miles from Manchester, twenty miles from Bellows Falls. It was the only thing his first wife had left him in their divorce eleven years ago, and the one place the senator could go and be assured of privacy.

Wife number one, Sharon Rosinski, a former Miss Toledo, had been captain of the UVM women's ski team. They had bought the A-frame early in their marriage, when they were still living in Ohio, for Vermont ski vacations. Wife number two, Daphne Melancamp White, hated skiing, snow, and, for that matter, the entire state of Vermont. She had been to Peru only once, during a six-day blizzard, and vowed she'd never return. And never did.

The A-frame had helped to establish the senator's Vermont residency when he first ran for the Senate in 1986, and it was slowly falling apart. The foundation sloped four degrees toward the hillside — a problem, a structural engineer had explained, that could not be corrected without taking the house down. The window joints were warped, letting drafts of cold air in. The plumbing was rusting from long periods of disuse.

It was the bane of Woody White's Washington staff's existence because there was no easy way to get there and because the senator often didn't answer the phone when he was at the house. His Vermont staff wasn't happy about the A-frame in Peru either. It was at least a two-hour drive from Montpelier, longer from Burlington.

And there was absolutely no security at the A-frame, both staffs pointed out to him. The fact that nobody knew where it was, the senator responded, was the best security of all. Not only was Peru barely on the map, but once you got there you had to take a series of unmarked dirt roads from the center of town in order to reach the house.

It wasn't easy for a United States senator to get lost. The people of Peru, all 336 of them, by and large respected his privacy, plowed his road when it snowed, and kept the house on the fire plan for the village's volunteer Fire Department.

He thought of calling home to see if Daphne was there, but he knew she wasn't. And besides, the cell phone was upstairs, and he didn't feel like moving. He was exhausted and depressed. Maybe it happened to all men, now and then, but it hadn't happened to Woody White in a very long time.

He was counting on the lobbyist from the National Association of Health Prophylaxis Industries to be discreet. After all, if she talked, she would have to reveal the source of her information, which would be difficult without compromising her own ethics, not to mention the future prospects of the bill that was languishing in the senator's subcommittee.

As the late-winter sun began to slide behind the hill, Senator Woodrow Wilson White sat at his sloping kitchen table drinking wine that was only several days away from vinegar, thinking about having flatlined with the lobbyist and about his prospects for reelection in November and about his current wife, who might or might not be having an affair with a Finnish ice-skater, and about his first wife, who was suing him for more money, and about his daughter, who was married to an Amish blacksmith and had no telephone, and about his son, who was in the marijuana business in Miami and had serious IRS problems, and about the fact that he had to be in Rutland tomorrow for a campaign appearance at a hockey-stick factory.

He was so immersed in this dreary collection of thoughts that he didn't hear his cell phone — upstairs on the bed, half buried beneath a pillow. Even had he heard the ring, he would have been reluctant to answer it, because he knew that it would be Ishmael and that Ishmael would have a long list of things the senator needed to attend to, things that, for one reason or another, he was not attending to.

So even though he had called Ishmael and asked him to call him back, the senator probably wouldn't have answered the phone even if he'd heard it, which he hadn't.

Ishmael Leibowitz, Senator White's chief of staff, sat in his office in the suite of offices in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Constitution Avenue and let the phone ring twenty times before putting the receiver down.

"Isn't there another number there?" Debbie Sue Allenby, the senator's chief legislative assistant, asked.

"Yes. But he doesn't give it out."

"Not even to you?"

"Not even to me."

"Does Montpelier know it?"

"Nobody knows it. His wife doesn't even know it."

Ishmael got up and started to pace around the small office, which abutted the senator's large office.

"What's he doing there?"

Ishmael gave her a look that implied that anyone who had worked for the senator for more than a few weeks should know not to ask that question.

Debbie Sue consulted her yellow legal pad.

"He's got a subcommittee meeting at four on Thursday. Plus there may be a Floor vote on the fisheries bill that morning."

"We can pair him on the fisheries vote."

"Which way?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It'll be in the Record."

"Debbie, Vermont is a landlocked state. They care about cows in Vermont, not about salmon quotas."

The phone rang. Ishmael grabbed it.

"Ishmael Leibowitz..."

There was a moment of silence, then Ishmael said, "Debbie Sue, may I have a moment, please?"

Debbie Sue nodded, making sure he knew that she knew that this was a personal call, and left the office.

Ishmael went over and closed the door, which Debbie Sue had left open on purpose. He returned to the phone and said, "Listen, I don't know about tonight. I've lost the senator."

d

He twisted the phone cord around his finger.

"When I find him, I'll call you....Barry, it's my job, all right?"

And he hung up, irritated. Barry, who never lost his senator, a fifth-term nonentity from Idaho, had a hard time understanding the roller-coaster ride it was being Senator Woody White's chief of staff.

Barry called him five times a day and prattled over the phone. If he wasn't such a good source of Grade-A gossip and classified information from the Armed Services Committee, on which Senator Nonentity sat, Ishmael would have blown him off a long time ago.

But if he blew Barry off, not only would his intelligence pipeline be compromised but his status in the unofficial caucus of gay Senate aides would be in jeopardy. What if they discovered his secret and he was outed by the group, if not publicly, at least privately? He would be left to wander around making contacts with the straight Senate aides, who, by and large, didn't know what the hell was going on.

So Ishmael Leibowitz continued his subterfuge, living a lie, while trying to keep track of Senator Woodrow White. Besides being overworked and underpaid, Vermont's staff allowance being the second smallest in the Senate, Ishmael Leibowitz was, in all probability, the only closet heterosexual in Washington.

It was already dark by the time Woody found his phone. He never used the house phone because it was not a secure line, and though it was no longer a party line, as it had been when he and Sharon first bought the house, he was never entirely convinced that people weren't listening in.

Outside of the secure line in the office, the cell phone was as secure as it got without getting the FBI involved. And you never knew about them. They had guys over there in the Hoover Building selling secrets to the tabloids. If not directly to the Ethics Committee.

These were perilous times. You didn't watch your back, you'd find yourself in that windowless room on the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building answering questions.

Woody had already had a brush with the vice squad. In 1995 a former staffer had accused him of sexual harassment. The charge was more or less groundless — a couple of ambiguous moments in the back of a campaign bus, instigated by the woman herself.

The Ethics Committee cleared him after a first-stage investigation, preferring to concentrate on Packwood, whom they were crucifying at the time. Thank God for Packwood. He had taken the pipe for the entire Senate.

Being cleared by Ethics didn't stop his alleged harassee, however. When she was finished with Sally Jessy and Geraldo, she wrote a book called A Fox in the Henhouse — Woody White in Washington, which spent a week on the Washington Post bestseller list before sinking precipitously onto the remainder shelves.

These were among the perils of being a United States senator these days. All for $137,500, with no honoraria and a shrinking travel allowance. You couldn't even frank Christmas cards anymore.

Woody opened the flip phone and dialed his home number in Virginia. After ten rings, a melodious male voice answered, "Pronto."

"Hello..."

"Chi parla?"

"Dario, it's me."

"Chi?"

"Me. Senator White."

"Ah, buona sera, senatore. Come sta?"
par

Dario Farniente was an illegal immigrant from Trieste, whom he and Daphne had hired to take care of their large neo-Colonial in McLean. To compensate for his limited, if not nonexistent, English, he was a superb cook, a meticulous gardener, and extremely discreet.

He was also a neo-Fascist. In his closet were a number of black shirts and armbands that were reminiscent of the heyday of Mussolini.

His wife and he had agreed that they had to fire Dario, but neither of them was ever at the house long enough to replace him, and so Dario stayed on, cooking sumptuous meals for himself and for the dachshund, Helmut, and for God knows who else, and Woody and Daphne were reduced to communicating with him in pidgin Italian.

"Dove my wife?"

"Come?"

"My wife. La signora?"

"Oh! La signora. Non c'è."

"Quando...uh...quando ritornare?"

"Non l'ho vista oggi."

"Did you vista her ieri?"

"Si, senatore. Ma e partita alle nove, e non lei ho parlato..."

Woody hung up in the middle of his housekeeper's sentence. Feeling a little light-headed, he took a few turns around the room to clear the muck out of his brain.

He was not firing on all cylinders these days. Last week he had dozed off during the middle of a subcommittee hearing on strip mining. On Friday he had backed into Trent Lott's car in the Senate parking garage. When he got out to examine the damage and realized that nobody had seen him, he drove off. And now he was convinced that the hidden surveillance cameras had recorded the incident and that he would be hearing from Lott's lawyers any day now, if not from the guys on the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The cell buzzed. Woody flipped it open. "Yes?"

"Senator?"

"Ishmael. What's going on?"

"You asked me to call you."

"Right. Listen, call Trent Lott's office and tell them that you backed into his Ford Explorer Friday in the Senate parking garage. You left a note on his windshield, which must have gotten blown off. Then call the insurance company and report the accident."

"I wasn't in the Senate parking garage last week. Only senators are allowed to park there. I have to park in the staff parking garage."

"Well, you borrowed my car."

"Senator, may I strongly advise against filing a false accident report?"

"All right. Call him. Tell him I had to run off to Vermont and forgot to report the accident. Tell him I'm sorry. It's just a little scraped paint. He probably didn't even notice it."

"Would you like to hear your phone log?"

"Just the top ten."

"There's the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, the Minority Whip, Senator Frobisher, Beverly, Senator Kalb, someone from the GAO about your expense receipts, Lee Schumock, Irwin Posalski, Vice President Gore's office, and John Q. Adams..."

"Who?"

"John Q. Adams."

"Who is John Q. Adams?"

"Actually, he likes to be called John Quincy Adams. He's a maple-syrup distributor from Montpelier."ar

"Why doesn't he call the Montpelier office?"

"He has, apparently. But you haven't contacted him."

"Let him write a letter."

"Senator, the man donated five hundred thousand dollars to your re-election campaign."

"He did?"

"Yes."

"Isn't that illegal?"

"He ran it through a PAC called the Vermont Maple Syrup Distributors Association."

"Five hundred thousand dollars?"

"That's right. I think it would be a nice gesture to call him personally."

Woody copied the number down.

"Your Vermont people need to confirm plans with you for tomorrow."

"I'll call them. What's Beverly's husband's name again?"

"Stewart."

"Is he still in the hospital?"

"He died three months ago."

"Did I send a card?"

"Yes, Senator. And flowers."

"Good...look, Ishmael, I've got to go shovel some snow off the roof."

"We're going to pair you on the fisheries bill with Staubman."

"Fine. Good. I'll talk to you when I get back to Washington."

"Are you going to be at the conference committee at four tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I've got to be in Rutland at nine..."

"Actually, you've got to be in Burlington at ten. Then you're having lunch with Beverly and the Montpelier staff and making a three o'clock flight into National."

"Fine. Listen, tell Trent Lott that his car was outside the yellow lines of his parking space, okay?"

Woody got off the phone and stared at the number of the maple-syrup guy who had forked over half a million.

A half a million in hard money. That was a lot of maple syrup. Woody dialed the number. A woman with a clipped Yankee accent answered the phone.

"VMSDA."

"Mr. Adams, please."

"Who would this be?"

"Senator White."

"Well, I'll be. Senator White. How're you doing?"

"Very well, thank you. I was returning Mr. Adams's phone call."

"Don't move a goddamn inch, Senator."

After a moment, a voice on the other end of the phone articulated, "John Quincy Adams here."

"Mr. Adams, it's Senator White."

"Now that's what Abigail here told me, and I'm tickled. You're not an easy man to catch up with."

"I'm terribly sorry, but we've been overwhelmed with legislation down in Washington these days. When it rains it pours."

"Don't it ever. We had two and a half inches the other day over in Barre. Practically needed a canoe to get down Main Street..."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Adams?"

"Well, Senator, I heard you're going to be up in Burlington tomorrow, and I was wondering if I could invite you to have a bite of lunch."

He'd have to blow off Beverly and the Vermont staff. They'd be pissed. But $500,000...

"Mr. Adams, I'd be delighted."

"That's hunky dory, Senator."

"Always a pleasure to meet with a constituent."

"Bertha's on Willard at twelve?"

"I'll find it."

"Senator, can you tell me why a hummingbird hums?"

"I'm afraid I don't know, Mr. Adams."

"'Cause he don't know the words."

Copyright © 1998 by Chiaroscuro Productions

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First Chapter

Chapter Three: Waste Control and Montrachet

At six-thirty that evening, after having tossed the Spanish omelet on the plane, the senator was sitting in an overheated room in the Rayburn House Office Building trying to stay awake during a conference-committee reconciliation of a bill to increase funding for various federal waste-control projects.

His committee aide had explained that the bill was dead in the water as soon as it hit the Floor. Nevertheless, Woody listened patiently as a first-term congressman from Minnesota named Carl Kanush tried to sell him an amendment that jacked up the cost of the bill -- a bill that Woody didn't support in the first place but he would vote for on the Floor precisely because it didn't stand a chance of passing and because a waste-control "yes" vote would spike his environmental score, which would make his numbers guy happy. According to Irwin Posalski, his pollster, he was dipping with the Sierra Club.

The Waste Control and Risk Assessment Subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee was the type of assignment a twelve-year, second-term senator ought to have been able to avoid. But Woody had burned some bridges with the Democratic leadership, and he was still paying the price.

He had a seat on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, was the ranking Democrat on two subcommittees -- Medicaid and Health Care, and African Affairs -- and held seats on Waste Control and Risk Assessment, and Parks, Historic Preservation, and Recreation. But he wasn't even near any of the big ones, like judiciary, Appropriations, or Foreign Relations.

If Senator Woodrow White wasn't in Siberia, he was definitely east of the Urals.

The bill squeaked through the conference committee, which meant that the congressman from Minnesota owed him a favor. As Woody got up to leave, the man came over to thank him.

"I appreciate your support on this, Senator."

"No problem," Woody replied. "I don't suppose you do auto-body work, do you?"

When Woody got back to his office, Ishmael was waiting with the phone log. Woody stared at it balefully. It was three pages long and growing by the minute.

"Lee Schumock? Who's he?"

"He's the writer your publisher has assigned to do the book with you. You're supposed to have dinner with him tonight."

"Tell him I've got a night session."

"You've canceled three times with him already. The Random House lawyer has sent a letter requesting a return of the advance if you don't begin work on the book forthwith."

"Forthwith?"

"That's the exact language. Mr. Schumock has reserved a table at the Summit for eight o'clock. It's on Prospect, just off Wisconsin. You can freshen up and just make it."

As Woody headed for his private bathroom, Ishmael said, "Your deductible is a thousand, Senator..."

Woody closed the door and approached the mirror. He looked awful. The recycled Spanish omelet had left destruction and ravage in its path.

He should have taken the $200 deductible. They were going to raise his insurance rates. Congressional immunity didn't apply to traffic accidents.

Maybe he'd call the congressman from Minnesota. Cash the marker fast before the man forgot. Find out what his deductible was. Maybe they could work something out.


"You're kidding."

"Uh-uh."

"She bought it?"

"She was an ex-cocktail waitress from Pompano Beach. What do you expect?"

Ishmael sat sipping Bardolino and half listening to Kevin Bunch, press secretary to the senator from Florida, talk about his boss's sexual exploits when he was a state representative.

"So he tells her not to worry. The Agency will take care of her if anything happens to him. But under no circumstances should she ever call them. Even if he doesn't come home at night. Meanwhile he's out there doing everything in Tallahassee with a skirt, and she never asks him why because she thinks he's an undercover CIA agent."

"That's hysterical," said Jack Hernden, a legislative assistant from the House.

"Does he swing?" Barry asked.

"You kidding? If he were any farther in the closet he'd have coat hangers coming out of his ass."

They were having dinner at Hugo's, a semi-trendy Italian restaurant in Dupont Circle. Barry, Kevin, Jack, and Ishmael were joined by Denny McCardle, a White House aide who was just near enough to the action to know what was going on and just far enough away not to be suspected when there were leaks.

Denny was sleeping with Jack. Barry and Kevin had had a thing about a year ago but that was over, and now they were both unattached, though Barry had been making it pretty clear that he was interested in Ishmael.

"So," Barry said, turning to Ishmael, "you found your senator?"

"He was in Peru, not answering his phone."

"So who was he with?" Kevin persisted.

Ishmael hesitated. He wasn't sure just how much information he should throw into the stew pot.

"Are we being coy?" Jack said with a smile.

"Just some lobbyist," Ishmael said.

"Who?"

They were relentless. There was no way he was going to get out of naming names, so he named names.

"Who's she with?"

Ishmael tried to keep a straight face when he told them, "The National Association of Health Prophylaxis Industries."

"Rubbers?" Kevin said.

It brought down the house. They were still laughing when the cappuccinos arrived.

"So," Denny said, trying to top Ishmael, "did you hear who Hillary's new hairdresser is?"

As the conversation shifted to the relative merits of Washington's top hairdressers, Ishmael tuned out. He was feeling more and more like an undercover intelligence agent who had infiltrated a spy ring.

There was a woman he was seeing secretly, an associate deputy director in the Agriculture Department. She was five years older than he, a single mother from Indiana, with strawberry-blond hair and very fair skin. Maud, her name was. Maud Summers, a WASP so white and midwestern that Ishmael's Galician ancestors would turn over in their mass graves if they knew about her.

Ishmael was thinking about Maud, about how she looked up at him with her nearsighted brown eyes after they made love on the crisply ironed sheets of her very neat bedroom in Alexandria, when his beeper went off.

"Jesus, Ishmael, doesn't that man ever give you a moment's peace?" Barry said.

"No," Ishmael replied, getting up and heading for the phone.

When he got the senator on his cell, he was in the car on the way to the restaurant, a half hour late and lost.

"Where are you, Senator?"

"Damned if I know."

Ishmael painstakingly explained to him how to find the restaurant.

He hung up and decided to call Maud.

"You know about Hillary's new hairdresser?" he asked her.

She laughed the laugh he found so wonderfully foreign. Jews could never laugh that way. Jews laughed from the pain in their souls. WASPs laughed to cover their embarrassment at finding life funny. When Maud climaxed, she sometimes laughed. As if she were embarrassed at having come at all.

"Peggy asleep?" he asked.

That was a code phrase for them. She hesitated for a moment, then said, "Yes."

"Half hour?"

"Okay."

He had the story down before he reached the table.

"He got his zipper stuck, right?" Kevin Bunch said.

"He wants to go over his notes on the fisheries bill."

"At this hour?"

"Woody White never sleeps. Sorry, guys."

Ishmael shrugged his martyred shrug and waved good-bye. As he walked out of the restaurant, he kept his tongue pressed against the cyanide cap in his mouth. If they captured him, he'd let it slip down his throat before they made him talk.


At the Summit, Senator Woodrow White sat across the table from Lee Schumock, star biographer and his collaborator on the book he had contracted to do for Random House for a million-two, a third up front. It wasn't bad for a sitting senator. Even though they had given away the store to Dick Morris, one-point-two wasn't chopped liver.

Lee Schumock was a tall, lugubrious-looking man in his forties, who had left a tenured position at Georgetown to write important political biographies, but the research was painstaking and the money lousy, and he eventually drifted into the more lucrative and somewhat less scholarly area of hot books about controversial politicians, businessmen, and movie stars.

He had done one of the Keating Five and Jack Nicholson, so he knew where both the soft money and the pussy were buried.

The senator sipped a vodka on the rocks and sized up Schumock. The writer was wearing a cheap sports jacket and Haggar slacks. The tie looked like it had a mind of its own, hanging limply in front of him and threatening to dip into the butter dish.

"The idea, Senator, is to produce a book that tells the reader who you are. The real you."

"The real me?"

"That's right. We're not interested just in the facts of your life -- growing up in Cleveland, your grades at law school, your first legislative victories -- but in the story behind those events, how you got to be where you are today. Who is Woodrow White?"

Woody ordered a second vodka, even though he knew he shouldn't. If he had learned one thing as a politician, it was not to trust writers.

"For example," Lee Schumock said, "I know that you were born in Cleveland and that your family moved to Shaker Heights when you were three. I know you went to the University School, Ohio State, and Case Western Reserve Law School. What I don't know, though, is what it was like to grow up in Shaker Heights in the fifties, what it felt like being the son of a New England White on one side and an Ohio Hanna on the other side. What was the breakfast table like? What did your parents tell you about life? When was the first time you kissed a girl?"

"Cheryl Edwards. In her basement under the Ping-Pong table."

"That's exactly it. That's what we want."

"Look," Woody said, "as you know, I've had some problems over the last couple of years. How do I know that this book isn't just going to throw fat on the fire?"

"This is your opportunity to respond. This is your shot at telling it the way you want to tell it. Me? I'm just a facilitator for you. This is your book."

The waiter put a plate of mussels in front of Woody and some foie gras in front of Lee Schumock.

"Who's paying for this dinner?"

"Random House."

Woody felt his appetite start to return. "Bring us a bottle of something white and dry, will you?"

"Yes, Senator," the waiter said.

There was virtually no place he could go in Washington anymore without being recognized. During the Ethics Committee investigation in '95 he could barely walk out of his office without some TV reporter sticking a mike in his face for a sound byte. His picture had been on the cover of Newsweek. Tourists would come into the office in the hope of catching a glimpse of him.

"You know my mother's still alive?" he said, as he parted the shell of a mussel.

"She's living in California now, isn't she?"

"Palm Springs. In a condo on a golf course. Costs me forty-five hundred a month. She's eighty-nine, drives around in a motorized wheelchair, and terrorizes people in the mall when she goes shopping."

"What was your father like?"

Herbert Weit was a tight-ass workaholic. Sold carpets for a living. Never laughed. Never took a day off. Never took Woody to a ball game. Woody changed his name to White six months after his father died from colon cancer at fifty-nine.

Woody realized that Lee Schumock was going to try to get it all out of him. Sooner or later. That's why the writer had suggested this restaurant, with the foie gras to die from and the terrific wine list. They had a Montrachet here that brought tears to your eyes.

"How long do you think this book is going to take?" he asked.

"Depends on how available you and the people who know you are for me."

"I don't know. I'm on five committees and I'm up for reelection in November."

"Don't worry. I'll fit right into your schedule. I'll travel with you. I'll go to meetings with you. I'll be a fly on the wall. You won't even know I'm there."

Woody picked up his wineglass, took a sip. "What do you say we have the waiter toss this stuff, and we order a bottle of Montrachet?"


It was precisely for these types of evenings, evenings when he was out late and had drunk a little too much Montrachet, that the senator kept a pied-à-terre in Wesley Heights. On such evenings all he had to do was fall into a cab and manage to get his key in the door.

But for some perverse reason that particular evening, after having chased the Montrachet with a large postprandial Martel, Woody found himself in the battered Mercedes Diesel heading for McLean.

He was not drunk enough to be a complete menace behind the wheel, but he was drunk enough not to consider the possibility that he would find something he didn't want to find at home. Or, more likely, not find something.

As soon as he drove into the garage and saw that her car was gone, he realized what he already knew -- that he should have stayed in Wesley Heights that night.

Dario, who wasn't expecting him, was curled up on the couch in the den with the dachshund. Dressed in his customary black shirt and armband, he was watching Leno on the forty-eight-inch TV and nibbling on a plate of pastries.

"Buona sera, senatore," his houseman greeted him. "Volete qualche zabaglione?"

"Dove...my wife?"

He shrugged a particularly Italian shrug that communicated not only that he didn't know where la signora was but that, in a larger sense, men didn't know where women were even when they were right there.

Unfortunately, Woody did know where his wife was. For some time now he had known where his wife was when she wasn't where she was supposed to be.

But he said nothing to Dario and walked out of the den and toward the stairs.

"Buona notte, senatore," Dario called after him, just as the laugh track exploded on Leno, as if to punctuate Woody's humiliation.

The house was decorator-furnished in knock-off Early American. Neither Daphne nor he was attached enough to the place to put much time or effort into it. They came and went according to their own erratic schedules, communicating sporadically and inaccurately through Dario, and very rarely finding themselves together under the same roof.

Daphne made the odd appearance with him at a Washington fundraiser, radiant and charming and managing to convey the impression that she was the senator's loving and devoted wife and not, in fact, the unfaithful woman, who, at the moment, was in the arms of a Finnish ice-skater fourteen years younger than her and without a green card.

As Woody peeled off his clothes, bone-weary from a day that had begun at 7 A.M. in Peru, he thought about how to deal with his wife and the ice-skater. What he'd like to do was walk into their love nest and shoot both of them, but he'd get forty to life and that wouldn't help him get reelected to the Senate.

He squinted at himself in the bathroom mirror. He was fifty-six years old but, at the moment, looked ten years older. It was the eyes, those steel-blue Paul Newman eyes, that redeemed the face. Without those eyes, he'd no doubt be back in Cleveland practicing real estate law, still married to Sharon, and spending his weekends on the living-room couch dozing in front of the football.

Throwing back a couple of aspirin to deal with the inevitable havoc that the Montrachet and the Martel would wreak in the morning, he staggered off to bed.

As he lay there, his head sinking heavily into the pillow, he had a final thought for the day. It was a good thought, and it helped him to drift off in a more positive frame of mind. Tomorrow morning he'd call a guy at INS who owed him a favor and find out just what you had to do to get a green-card application pulled.

Copyright © 1998 by Chiaroscuro Productions

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2002

    A good weekend read!

    The story is absorbing and very funny at times! It doesn't matter if you don't like politically based stories because the shear fun and drama of the story supercedes that!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2001

    Great Fun Read

    This is a fun book to read. It is a great humorous look at behind the scene politics. You will find yourself feeling sorry for the main character, Woody, and cheering him on throughout his many problems. It is a fast read and when it is done you will be wishing there was more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2000

    Quick Read, Very Funny

    This book is really funny and contains enough twists and turns to put Election 2000 to shame. If you like to mix politics and humor you won't put this book down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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