Claire’s heels clicked away as her foot tapped to imaginary music – it was how she entertained herself when she was made to wait. The incessant clack of her black heels on the cold marble echoed down a dim hall and toward the sunlight that flooded the far end. The halo made it hard for her to see the glares thrown at her by that beast of a man wrapped up in a black suit, wearing his ear piece as a badge of honor.
“Excuse me, sir,” she asked the man, but he held still, staring forward at the opposite wall. “What, you can’t hear my voice? Just my shoes?”
“What is it?” He added as an afterthought, “Ma’am.”
“Well, I’m just wondering how much longer he’s going to be. This interview has been pushed back repeatedly and each time we set a date and time, there’s always another stipulation added on. Is this thing going to happen, or is he just giving me the run around?”
Claire almost heard his thick neck creak as he turned to sneer at her. “Well if you’re so tired of waiting, I suggest you find another story.” His lips spread thin and wide across his face – a half concealed smile? Did he really think he was that witty.
“Oh, don’t you worry. The story I’m going to write will be about your dear senator regardless of whether I get this interview.” His half-smile persisted as he turned to face the blank wall again. Such a stupid look – need to wipe it off his face. “I guess I’ll just have to make up some of the more juicy bits.”
That took care of his face.
He turned back to look at her. “You media people think you’re so funny, don’t you?” There was a fierceness in his eyes, like you’d see in a rabid dog. “Well go ahead and write whatever you want. We both know you’d lose your job over whatever libelous crap you’d cook up.”
Claire was sitting on an old wooden bench, probably older than her. These old government buildings were always filled with this old crap. Not a modern thing in them – people included. The bench groaned as she leaned back and raised her chin toward the man.
“‘Libelous.’ That’s a big word.” The suited hulk heaved as he tried not to chuckle, that half-wit smile back. Time to let her own dog out of the cage. “You must’ve learned it on your word-a-day calendar, huh?” His face fell to a scowl. “I’ve got another one you can look up. ‘Subtext.'” His eye contact was unwavering, eyes unblinking. “You can give me all the facts you want –,” Claire leaned forward, holding his gaze, voice lowered, “– I can still spin them any way I want.”
Someone passed through the light at the end of the hall. The strange arrangement of light and shadow reflected down the hall played a strange game on the man’s face. Claire tracked the light as it moved across the far side of his face, then somehow, over the bridge of his nose and down his cheek. The light must have been reflecting off the wall Claire sat against. And just as the staring contest was getting heated, she found something more interesting and broke eye contact.
The man smirked at her – probably thought he had put the conflict to rest, had been the victor. But Claire knew better. She knew conflict was controlled by currency. And right now, she had all the gold.
The man looked back at the wall again, back straight, arms crossed. Sure enough, there it was, the reason Claire lost the stare-down. Peaking from just below the neatly pressed shirt collar was the edge of a bruise.
The silence was filled again with imaginary music. Claire’s heel resumed her time keeping…this song had a much faster tempo than the last.
“What’s your name?” Claire had always been good at playing with people, but it was something she tried not to do anymore. But she still indulged once in a while. “What? Can’t speak anymore.”
He threw her a dirty look. He still thought he had won the last battle. He didn’t want to engage her again in case he should lose.
The door opened. Claire leaned to see around the bodyguard and through the door on his far side. The corner of a cluttered desk was all she saw before a gray-suited man filled the doorway. He patted the hulk on the shoulder, sending a tremor through his ear piece. “We’ll see you next week, Carter.”
The door shut and the suit passed Claire, his white hair shining in the light as he walked toward the dark end of the hall.
She looked back. “Carter, huh?” He sighed in sync with the subtle shake of his head. “Well, Carter, since I’m here to do an interview, I’ll just interview you if that’s all right.” Claire pulled the small notepad and pen from her handbag. “So you spend a lot of time with the Senator, right?”
SIlence. Claire opened the notepad and began to scrawl across the page, the scratching of the pen its own metronome. “I see. So you and the Senator must be awfully close, right?”
Silence. Claire wrote and filled the paper. She turned the page so fast she threatened to tear it, searching for a blank one. “Two people who spend so much time together in such a stressful environment must have a very profound connection, huh?”
Silence. Still the pen scratches continued. “I only ask, Carter, because I’m wondering how that bruise got on your neck.”
He found her eyes. “What are you playing at?”
“Playing?” Claire brought her hand to her chest, pen still woven through her fingers. “I’m not playing at anything. I’m just getting my facts straight.”
She looked down and flipped back through her notebook. “Let’s see,” she paused and acted like she was scanning her notes. “Ah, here it is. So you, who your Senator’s cohort so lovingly refer to as Carter, cannot explain the mysterious origin of a mark on you neck, a mark most junior high students could guess the origin of. Instead, you play ignorant and claim that you spend all day with the Senator, pouring over his schedule, tracking his every move, longing for the chance to save his life. And the Senator’s long hours? They must get lonely sometimes. Doesn’t it seem likely you two would have a” –she broke eye contact with the page to look at Carter – “unique relationship?”
Carter’s jaw muscles flexed as the door opened again. The senator stepped through. His eyes found her. “Ah, Claire, isn’t it?” His arm motioned to the door. “Please, come in.”
She stood as the Senator disappeared into the office again.
Her heels rang out yet again as she strode the five paces to the door, scrawling again on a blank page in her notebook that she then ripped out. She paused in the frame, rose on her toes and whispered to Carter, “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”
She slipped a piece of paper into his hand and stepped into the office. As she close the door behind her, Carter glanced at the paper. In the shrinking crack of the doorway, he turned to Claire, giving her devilish smile. Written on the paper: s-u-b-t-e-x-t.