Chapter 25

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

The man for whom fury had become as natural as breathing called Tom Delaney.

“Tom, where is she? We haven’t heard anything in hours. You promised me…”

In the background, the hum of excited people blared into the earpiece. Making good-natured excuses, Tom moved away from the noise and replied under his breath, “Look, I’ve got other things to worry about right now. Don’t you get it? Ellen found out about Elizabeth! I haven’t seen her since this morning. If the press finds out about this… I don’t have to tell you what that’s going to mean for both of us.”

Several moments of an uncomfortable silence passed by before Tom got a reply, “How’d she find out, Tom? You told me no one else knew. You swore it- swore to me that there was no chance that anyone else knew what was going on. What’d you do? Leave something stupid out where Ellen found it?”

“No, actually- the only other person that knew of the arrangement was the one who informed Ellen. Elizabeth wrote Ellen a letter, you idiot,” growled Tom through clenched teeth. “I traded everything to get here, and you promised to follow through. Then you lose your mind, and I’m left with nothing. You had better fix this. So help me…” snarled Tom. “So help me, you had better make things right here.”

“I only care about your marriage as far as it’s going to hurt this election- if you had cared about it in the first place, you’d never have been screwing around. That’s your problem, not mine.”

“You and I both know that that was not an option. Elizabeth was the only entrance we had to most of those names and donors. The rest of our plan depended on my…uh… relationship with her. But losing Ellen was never part of the bargain.”

“I repeat… Your marriage is your problem. Keep the situation out of the press until Tuesday, and the election is in the bag. That still leaves your end of the bargain unpaid. Tom… you had better find Karen. I’m sick of waiting.”

“What do you want me to do? I got her name out there- the police are looking for her.” Tom’s voice was near a whisper now. “There’s nothing else I can do!”

“You’d better figure something out. We both know there are a lot of people depending on you right now.”

“I’m well aware of that. I’ve got to go… There’s a camera crew here now. They probably want a sound byte. I’ll call you if and when I hear anything- Just as I’ve arranged for up to this point.”

Tom’s phone disconnected in his ear without a good-bye. It was just as well. Things were getting entirely too complicated. Tom returned to the fracas, smiling and nodding to voters. Noticing an unfamiliar reporter with a local TV station, Tom graciously turned, expecting the same standard questions he’d been receiving for weeks now. To his shock and chagrin, the reporter stuck his microphone in Tom’s face and yelled, “Mr. Delaney, Would you care to comment on reports that you have separated with Mrs. Delaney?”

Tom’s face went slack, and he became pale. “I… uh… Well, you see…”

“No comment! No comment!” An aide was pulling at his shirt, trying to get him to get into the campaign van, which was painted garishly with Tom Delaney for Mayor in red, white, and blue.

Dazed and confused, Tom turned from the frenzy. Voters were passing the word to each other about the breakup of Tom’s marriage. Baffled looks were exchanged among both those who had turned out to toast Tom’s almost certain victory, and those who worked for Tom, and felt as though they should have known if something this dire had happened. Tom himself shared their discomfiture. Ellen left me?! She actually walked out on me? And didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me herself- I had to hear it from some two-bit reporter… Nausea began to grow in the pit of his belly and his chest became tighter and tighter…

“Mr. Delaney… are you alright?” Tom had bent over in the seat of the van, his head between his legs. One hand gripped the armrest.

“Oh no! Oh no! Someone help! Tom’s turning purple!” Tom heard distant voices in the background, but they made no sense. He felt a curious sense of movement, although he was not aware of moving. All he could think was, She left me. Ellen left. She’s gone…

And then everything went black.

Tom woke up to bright lights and strange faces.

“Welcome back Mr. Delaney. How are you feeling?” Tom’s tie had been removed, and his shirt unbuttoned partway. A strong pair of hands assisted him in sitting up partway, and a wave of dizziness overtook him.

“Whoa there… Take it easy, sir. You’ve had a bit of a strain and you don’t want to overdo it.”

Tom tried to focus his vision, blinking several times before he finally asked, “Where am I?”

“Porter Hospital… I’m afraid you blacked out. Your staff was afraid you’d had a heart attack.”

“Did I?”

“No… Your heart is beating normally, your blood pressure is a bit high, but nothing out of the ordinary for someone who’s been on the campaign trail as long as you have.”

“Then what happened?” Tom asked in befuddlement.

“Well, after checking your vitals, we believe you had something of an anxiety attack brought on by stress.”

Stress? Then slowly, it all came back to him- the phone conversation, that aggressive reporter… Tom slumped back onto the gurney and closed his eyes. This isn’t happening to me. Not now… Not now…

Tom heard someone on the other side of the curtain asking if it was okay to enter. The doctor replied in the affirmative, and one of Tom’s assistants came around the corner.

“Hey there, Tom. You gave us quite a scare there!”

“What’s happening with the election? Is it all over the news?”

A nervous look came over the assistant’s face. “Well, sir, I think it’s best that you just recover for now. There will be plenty of time later to worry about that. The important thing is…”

“The important thing is to get me out of here and back on track,” Tom snapped.

“I don’t know if the doctor has cleared you yet and…” started the nervous assistant.

“Do I look like I care right now? I’m checking out of this place- what time is it?”

The assistant answered that it was almost six pm. Tom thought for just a moment, and replied, “Alright, that leaves us where?”

“Well, sir, the dinner with the North Denver Confab was scheduled, but Cindy already called to cancel.”

“Well, tell her that we’ll be there. Make it happen. Now!” Tom barked.

The assistant scurried away.

Tom rose on unsteady feet and walked out of the curtained cubicle in the emergency room. A doctor spotted him and walked over. Tom immediately snapped at him.

“Who do I need to talk to in order to get out of here?”

The doctor looked at him coolly before replying. “Mr. Delaney, you’ve suffered quite a shock to your system, and it’s not my recommendation that you leave here before we’ve had a chance to give you a thorough examination.”

Tom’s eyes grew cold and hard as he looked at the doctor, “I didn’t ask for your opinion. I asked who I need to speak to in order to get out of here,” Tom repeated.

The doctor’s lips pressed together as he restrained a curt reply. “We can’t keep you here. Just check out before you leave. I advise you again that this is not the best course of action… medically speaking, of course.”

Tom turned on his heel and strode away in the direction of the exit. A bevy of assistants stood with clipboards around Jack Jenkins who stood in the waiting room giving frightened looking interns directions. Tom approached the group and they all scattered.

Jack appraised him smoothly. “I was told you wouldn’t be let out any time soon, Tom. What are you doing here?”

“I should ask you the same thing. Who called you?” growled Tom as the two strode out the door without a backward glance. Several reporters with high-powered lights stood outside and rushed at the pair when they were spotted. Questions were thrown at both of them as they made their way to the parking garage. Without comment, Tom followed Jack to his car, climbing in the passenger seat. Jack started the engine, pulling away and the crowd parted slowly.

“To answer your question, I got about ten panicked calls from all kinds of people worried about what happened to you, Tom. Not to mention, I got to see it all over local television. I don’t have to tell you, this is a little bit of a problem.”

Tom stared out the window, sighing deeply. “She left me Jack.”

A momentary pause and then, “I know,” Jack replied softly.

“Did someone call her when they took me to the hospital?”

Jack shifted in his chair, clearly a tad uncomfortable. “Cindy called her, Tom. When she found out it was nothing more than a panic attack, she said she wasn’t coming.”

“I see,” was all Tom said, but his insides were churning and his thoughts careened inside his mind. After almost forty years, this is the treatment I get? She can’t even come down to the hospital to see how I’m doing? A small part of Tom spoke softly, calling to mind the injury he had done her. But a larger part refused to listen, standing on self-importance to define the current situation.

“Tom, we’ve got to sit down and talk this out,” and suddenly Jack cursed violently. “What we need is Karen! She’s got a fresher mind than I have right now. Tom, not only did you just risk alienating your conservative voters, who need I remind you are probably going to frown on extramarital activities, but you just presented yourself as an unhealthy candidate. Which means that there are a lot of people out there tonight wondering if you’re going to kick the bucket on duty.”

Determination defined Tom’s features. “We need something drastic- this is the end of the game, Jack, and we have to do something dramatic that will hold people’s attention long enough to get them to the polls.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed and he looked over at Tom quickly from the driver’s seat. “What’d you have in mind, Tom? We have to be smart, here.”

“Where’s Andrew Dade tonight?”

Jack shrugged and called one of his assistants on his cell phone. “Hey there Andrea, I need Dade’s itinerary… Well, it should be on his website… Alright, I can hold… Yeah, okay. Thanks… Bye.” Jack clicked his phone shut with one hand and replied to Tom, “Dade’s at a meet-and-greet, downtown til eleven tonight. What are you thinking about?”

“Party crashing, Jack- at the eleventh hour.”

“Tom, do I need to remind you that that is going to make you look like an imbecile? Every person there is likely swaying towards Dade- they’re all going to think you’re off your rocker.”

“Not if the press shows up and sees a strong, resilient Thomas Delaney in a last-minute impromptu debate with the opposition.”

“Okay- two questions… First, how are the press going to know that you’re there, and Second, What if Dade doesn’t fall on his face in this debate, Tom? You won the last debate only after weeks of prep work. Karen grilled you, man, and she’s not here right now.”

Tom threw a hawkish look at Jack, “Forget about her for the moment. I’m what’s happening now. You still have a day to get me elected, and I’m not giving up!”

A muscle rippled dangerously along Jack’s jaw, but his tone was controlled as he replied, “Are you set on doing this? You know the police could get called.”

Tom laughed, “Are you forgetting whose side the Denver Police are on? This is bold and decisive. Lend me your tie, and let’s get down there now.”

“If you want professional advice, I’d suggest walking in there casually. Leave the collar unbuttoned, and roll up your sleeves.”

Tom stared inactively for only a moment, and then did as was suggested.

“Alright, Jack. Let’s go crash this party!”

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

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