Chapter 3

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

Friday dawned clear and bright. Rain glittered like diamonds on the grass as Karen looked bleary-eyed out her kitchen window into the small manicured backyard. The violently angry woman had haunted Karen’s dreams. Who was she? Why hadn’t Tom confessed to an affair before this? Usually, clients were required to do a full disclosure. Firms like Jack’s had to know exactly what they were getting into, and any risks that might turn into big problems later on.

Karen’s red silk kimono flowed around her as she prepared her morning tea- coffee gave her a headache, and besides, the herbal teabags made good compresses for her puffy eyes- just another one of the myriad details she had picked up the hard way.

Everything in her home was about the details. What was it Einstein had said? That God was in the details? In any event, her home was a showplace. All the furnishings played around a modern Asian theme: the furniture was sleek and simple, her bamboo rugs natural and flawless. Black lamps showered the room with golden light by night. Two sculptures modeled fluid movement on the ebony tables at either end of her sofa. Karen also had installed a large fountain on one wall that reminded her of a waterfall. The sound of running water soothed her ever-present tension.

The kitchen was finished in black granite and stainless steel. A small TV sat on the counter to fill the silence on the evenings she was actually home. The blaring set made the loneliness less tangible when she ate dinner alone at the small glass and chrome table.

Karen grabbed the remote and flipped on the news, determined to get a headstart before she dug into the two Denver dailies, and the New York Times. After she arrived at her office, she’d run through all the major internet news services and any other pertinent sites. A thousand details always presented themselves, but the constant motion was engaging, most of the time. Popping her whole-wheat toast up out of the shiny toaster, she absent-mindedly took a bite as she flipped through the pages of the newspaper.

The same man that had moderated the debate the night before on Channel 8, Jeff Yendale, threw the news to traffic and then commercials. Ignoring the mindless chatter of advertisements, Karen glanced up and immediately sucked in a breath. Following a rundown of the expected weather in Denver that day, as if anyone really made accurate predictions in this town, she thought, the leading story on that morning’s news featured the murder of a woman overnight- not a major event in a city that size, but it was the picture of the murdered woman that socked Karen in the gut.

The screen filled with images of the disheveled woman from the night before- the woman that Tom had been trying to hide from Karen, the woman that had screamed throughout Karen’s dreams. The story presented a persona very different from the one Karen had witnessed, but it was most definitely the same individual. Slim, and perfectly clad in a blue-silk dress, the woman’s auburn-highlighted hair flowed gently about her face and shoulders as she stood smiling arm-in-arm with a stately man who looked vaguely familiar. Karen neglected the details of the story as she watched in open-mouthed shock while her toast dropped unnoticed from her hand.

Oh, no… Oh, no… Karen placed both hands on the counter and bent her head over, trying to breathe. She was not used to losing control, and she was not about to do so now. Blonde tresses slipped from the clip that held the thick length back from her face.

Only a few short days separated Karen from what could be the most pivotal job she had ever had, and a murder topped the list of what could never happen if they wanted to win. Elections had been lost for much less than this. Automatically, Karen shifted into damage control before she forcibly stopped herself.

What is the matter with me? A woman is dead, and I’m worried about the effect this will have on the election?! Get a grip on yourself… All I can say is that Tom had better have a good explanation, because things are about to get really messy.

Karen readied herself for work in record time, pulling her hair back as usual and dressing in an eggplant colored shift with a matching coat. Her long, trim legs looked fabulous in the matching pumps. As usual, Karen dressed to impress but panic added an edge to her actions that only one familiar with her ways would notice. By sheer determination, her demeanor had to remain cool- a woman in politics could rarely afford to lose her temper.

Karen sped to headquarters, knowing that’s where she would find Jack. Nervousness simmered immediately under the surface-she expected police cars and at least the local news outlets, although she knew any election in a major city connected with a murder would be enough for the national news to send someone. In the public domain, a good reporter would be able to sniff out an affair and this one would likely end up as her problem. But surprisingly, Karen pulled up to find the worn building as normal as any other day. Volunteers, dressed in T-Shirts blaring Tom’s name, walked in and out and the normal traffic raced by.

Somewhat confused, Karen dumped her things in her makeshift cubicle and stormed into the War Room. She ignored the blue carpet, worn in tracks around the table, and the swivel chairs which split and cracked along lines in the old vinyl. This room had been used and abused, and would likely continue to be long after this particular election was over. Jack sat alone, munching on a whole-grain bagel and underlining sections of the newspaper with a black pen. A steaming cup of coffee in a thick blue mug rested in front of him.

Karen threw a notebook down on the table in front of him, “Jack, what’s going on?”

He looked up at her, tension etched around his eyes.

“I guess that means you know,” he said in a surprisingly calm tone, his gaze returning to the paper. “I was really hoping you wouldn’t have seen her here last night. Tom called and said that you had.” Jack expelled a deep breath. “Karen, it’s not what it looks like. Tom had nothing to do with it.”

Karen held up one manicured hand and closed her eyes, somewhat pleased that Jack wasn’t going to play dumb about this.

“Are you telling me that you knew about her? She didn’t show up on my bio. Jack, you promised me total access. Total access, Jack. Tom presented himself as some squeaky- clean conservative with nothing on his record. And now there’s a dead woman that I witnessed having a violent confrontation with Tom on the eve of her murder. Tell me how it’s not what it looks like!”

“Tom’s got a solid alibi. He went straight home to Ellen, and stayed there all night. He had nothing to do with this,” Jack repeated.

“Okay fine. That’s all well and good. But can I assume here for a moment that the situation was what it looked like? That woman, whoever she was, was Tom’s mistress, am I correct?”

Jack nodded, his eyes closed and his shoulders hunched in weariness.

“So you’re telling me that it’s a strong possibility that the press could find out, four days before election day, that one candidate’s mistress has been murdered, and you don’t think there’s a problem?” her voice rose in frustration.

Jack looked at her, a familiar fierceness creeping onto his face. “Wait a minute, Karen. No one knew that she and Tom were connected in any way, other than the campaign. Well, no one that’s going to talk anyway,” he said rethinking his statement. “He was always very discreet. Tom made sure of that, for Ellen’s sake.”

Karen listened, her lips pursed as she tried to digest that irony. She closed her eyes momentarily before continuing.

“Are you telling me that Mr. Right-Wing-Fundamentalist-Squeaky-Clean Tom Delaney was committing adultery, all the while priding himself on his discretion, and now we’re stuck playing damage control?” she asked, her eyes narrowed.

“Oh, come off it Karen. You’re no pious religious freak. The fact is, there is no damage control issue here. What we have is a tragic, isolated event spurred by a hysterical woman who obviously had some other issues. End of story. So get your head back in the game.” Jack bent back over the paper, dismissing her. Karen’s hands rose unconsciously to press on the sinus headache that threatened underneath her eyes.

Tom entered headquarters moments later, shaking hands and chatting with all the volunteers. He gripped their hands and forearms, looking right into their eyes- a traditional political strategy designed to connect with the public. His silver hair lent him an aura of distinction that made most feel honored by his attention. Fortunately, Karen was used to these types, and no longer felt cowed in their presence.

“Good morning, Karen… Tom. How is everyone this morning?”

Jack cut off Karen’s reply.

“Great, Tom. Opinion polls after the debate show you fifteen points ahead. You are in great shape right now, my friend.”

“Good, good,” Tom said rubbing his hands together. “And how is the beautiful and brilliant Karen this morning?”

“Well, Tom, I’d be better if I didn’t have to explain why a dead woman was physically confronting you in headquarters last night.”

Tom laughed. “I think I’d remember if I had a ‘Night of the Living Dead’ encounter last night, don’t you Jack?”

Karen was in no mood and cut him off. “Drop it Tom. I need to know what happened.”

Tom’s eyes narrowed and grew cold. “Let’s get something straight here… You work for me. And I don’t need any woman giving me a hard time about something she knows nothing about.” Gone was the gregarious façade, replaced by a hulking countenance that evidenced his disdain for her. “Did you hear me Karen? You know nothing, because there’s nothing to know. I went home to Ellen and that’s the end of the story. What you saw was a random meeting of an upset woman and a political candidate. For all you know, she wandered in off the street.”

Karen bit the inside of her cheek and looked at Jack, completely incredulous. This man apparently thought she was a coward and an idiot. Jack looked back and shook his head, just slightly, telling her to back off. Keeping her cool, she crossed her arms and leaned back on the table, not backing down an inch.

“I have an obligation to call the police. You know that, don’t you Tom?”

“Well, now. What purpose would that serve? There’s no reason to think I had anything to do with that woman’s tragic demise,” he said in a faintly nauseating tone of voice. Who is he kidding, Karen thought. That kind of garbage will never fly, professionally or politically.

Slowly and clearly, to make obvious her opinion of the situation, she said, “I’m leaving here, and I’m going to call the police.” She may have been hard-nosed to get to the top, but never had there been a compromise of her honesty. And despite the circumstances of the situation, she had no intention of quitting on that determination now.

Jack got up hurriedly, holding his hand out to stop Tom and followed her to her makeshift office. He roughly grabbed her arm.

“What do you think you’re doing? You will not throw away all our hard work for nothing!”

“Get your hand off of me, Jack. Now,” she said commandingly, looking right into his eyes.

“Karen, if the news outlets even mention Tom’s name in connection to that woman, this election is over. And need I remind you that if we lose this election, you lose too.” He paused for a moment, his hand running through his graying hair. “At least wait one more day. Wait until tomorrow. Let us get into the weekend so the news doesn’t hit at a peak. Please… if you have to do it, at least think about the implications. Minimize the effect this will have,” Jack’s grip had softened and his tone became gentler, almost pleading.

Karen jerked her arm out of his grip, and stared him down, not willing to admit that his words had swayed her slightly.

“Alright, I’ll wait until tomorrow. I’ve never lied to you Jack, and I won’t lie for you.” Tension left his face at her words.

“Fair enough, Karen. Let’s get back in there and finish the day off right. Okay?”

She nodded, and followed him back to get through Tom’s schedule. Karen didn’t want to sacrifice everything yet, despite her conviction that something deeper was happening and she didn’t appreciate being kept in the dark. Even so, she felt faintly dishonest and kept her eyes on her work.

As the pair reentered the War Room, Tom looked to Jack with darkness in his gaze. Jack nodded faintly and the three sat to discuss their lists. Before Tom left, he looked over to Karen.

“You watch yourself, girl. You’re smart. I’ll give you that. And you’re beautiful, that’s indisputable. But your job is to get me elected. That’s it. So think twice before you do anything… stupid. Are we clear?”

Karen looked to an impassive Jack, and with pursed lips considered her reply.

“I guess what I’m clear on Tom, is that you are playing a dangerous line here… That’s my professional opinion.”

Anger flushed his cheeks, but he replied in a steely tone, “Consider yourself warned. I know you’re too smart to make a mistake right now.” And he walked out, instantaneously becoming the convivial gargoyle he presented to the masses.

Karen looked over to Jack. “Do you want to explain that?”

“Karen, just be smart. This is important,” Jack had risen and put his hand on her arm before leaving the room to attend to a million other extraneous details.

Later that afternoon, she accessed the police department’s website and found the name of the detective assigned to the case. Typing out a quick e-mail, she left her name and cell number, hoping that she was doing the right thing. Karen took a deep breath and hit the ‘send’ button, sealing her fate whatever it might be.

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

Return to Right to Refuge

Cybergrace Banner Exchange 2000