Forbidden Secrets: Part II, Confessions of a Madame Secretary
“The rulers of law
make rules for the strong.
They hide their motives
with with tricks and hocus-pocus.
Their arms have long reaches
protecting forbidden secrets.
Yet, one day their deeds will be exposed,
then the petals will wilt and fall will the Rose.”
Sir Thomas Peppercorn of Quagmire,
from the poem “Ditty Ditty Dumpling Sauce,” circa 1588.
In the weeks after my meeting with Republican candidate Grump I eased into something of a malaise I hadn’t anticipated after such a controversial story. Sure it was a professional triumph but that came with a heavy price. People started to take notice of my work but I was also derided as a phony. Then the people who supported me called me a hero. I felt somewhere in between.
Yet there was also a sense of normalcy. On one hand I resumed my usual storylines for The Culture Quarter, rejecting anything even remotely political. The Dancing Dog of New Dorp was a surprisingly popular article with certain groups of animal lovers despite a rather violent outcry from a fringe animal rights protection group. This group, which I will not name, had some very stringent demands. They called for a boycott of the article, a liberation of the canine from her dancing shoes, and also tried to get a petition signed which would force me to take dancing classes. I said I would oblige if they could find me a pair of Flamenco shoes with two left feet, tongue firmly resting in cheek. Then there was the story detailing the Soapmaker from Scarsdale. That story was interesting because this particular lady had aquaphobia because as a child she had a plant die from over-watering. Seldom could she scrub and when she did she had to be sedated by a friend so as to avoid not succumbing to shock. If the sedated scrubbing was consensual, she didn’t say, nor did I stick around to decipher. I was too repulsed by her smell. This article, sadly, caught the attention of no one.
But what truly came about from the Grump article was something akin to a loss of innocence. Gone were the simple days of Dumb Outspoken Bigot versus Calculated Corrupt Politician. I began to look at the world with skeptical, mistrusting eyes always suspicious of surface motives. Walking down the streets of Brooklyn, riding the trains across the Manhattan bridge, giving lost tourists misleading directions; all took on a strange new meaning. As if underneath these seemingly normal activities lied some other force at work propelling us without our knowledge into some preordained destination. I went through emotions of anger, sadness, and finally paranoia. For my daughter Amara’s first birthday, Boni and I took her to the waterfront in Brooklyn. An old man was throwing scraps of bread to the seagulls. These birds, brothers and sisters of the same feather, were attacking each other as if their survival depended on it. Perhaps their lives did depend on it, but I couldn’t help but have the feeling these birds were being manipulated with stale bread crumbs while the old man was exerting some form of control over them. Such casual pastimes like this were beginning to take on perverse forms. What seemed up, was now down. What was black is now white. Truth, fiction. I felt like Kevin Costner in JFK. But unlike his character who was searching for that elusive truth, the truth came and sought me out like picking a criminal from a lineup. But it wasn’t just a feeling. Since my interview with Ronald Grump, strange occurrences gave the impression I was being watched. I noticed people standing on the roofs of apartments across from my bedroom window peering in the direction of our apartment. My wife said they were probably city workers but what were they doing with telescopes? At Whole Foods on 14th Street, while I was waiting in line to pay, a woman with flaming red hair asked me “so, have you been watching the debates?” Thinking it was a little strange I answered “I don’t discuss politics in the grocery store,” then my number was called, I stepped forward, paid, and got the hell out of there. Three days later I was jogging on the boardwalk at Coney Island and the very same lady rode past me on a bike, her flaming hair dancing in the wind. Perhaps this was all coincidence. But something happened which confirmed the opposite.
In the early afternoon, before the kids are released from school like packs of hungry hounds devouring all the silence in their path, the Giuseppe Garibaldi playground is a tranquil sanctuary of childhood recreation. Amara was in the bucket swing, gently swaying forward and back, and as can happen on idyllic days in the park, the mind wanders. I was pondering the history of the neighborhood and was even beginning to find new inspirations for exploring some of these stories. Then my phone rang. It was Boni.
“Hey, babe,” I said, “how’s work, busy?”
“Not really. What are you guys doing?
“Had tamales. Now at the park.”
I could hear her holding her breath over the line.
“I don’t want to talk too loud.”
“Boni, what is it?”
“Well, I know this might sound crazy but...nevermind.”
“Seriously, what happened?”
“Well, yesterday at Starbucks I was waiting in line and this lady standing in line behind me said something really strange.”
“Yeah, what else?”
“Well she mentioned the presidential debates. But in this accusing kind of way like ‘what’d you think of the debates?’ But she was dressed real professional and I just answered ‘I fell asleep.’ But then this morning I noticed her on the D train. She was staring at me and when I noticed she winked at me. Then at Barclay’s Center she walked off the train disappearing into the crowd.”
I was afraid to ask the next question.
“What did her hair look like?”
“Was it red?”
“Yes...how'd you know?”
“I think you should take the rest of the day off and get home as fast as you can.”
It was one of those nights where the wind didn’t stop whistling. In Ireland they would call it the banshees, wailing for an impending doom. Ominous cries while in the sky clouds were moving fast over Brooklyn. Autumn was here and soon I could tell the rain would start falling. We kept quiet and had a polite dinner and put Amara to sleep early. After, we sat on the couch, nervous at the creaking roof under assault from the assailing winds. Then Boni broke the silence.
“How did you know she had red hair?”
I told her what happened to me.
“What does it mean?” Boni held my hand to her chest.
“I don’t know,” I said, confused and a little scared, “I mean, it’s weird. But I will make sure nothing happens to us. I promise.”
Later that night I laid in bed but couldn’t sleep. In the dark, my mind was running up and down, playing out even the most far-fetched scenarios and with each creak of the wind I would jump. The deeper into night it became, the harder it was to sleep. Then I heard something. Maybe a thump or a knock. It was hard to say. But without wanting to alarm Boni, I grabbed a hammer I keep next to the bed and quietly slipped out of the room.
I turned on the living room light and then I heard it, unmistakable. Footsteps on the stairs, running down, becoming more faint, then silence. I could hear the rusty front gate of the building slam. Then I heard the floorboards creak behind me and I turned with my hammer raised.
It was her.
“Oh my god, Boni. You scared the shit out of me.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” I lied, “I thought I heard…”
“Footsteps on the stairs? I heard it too.”
Arm in arm we tiptoed down the hall to the front door.
“Should I open the door?” I asked, hoping she would say no.
“Look,” she said, pointing to the ground.
At our feet was a small piece of paper. It must have been slipped under the door. Boni leaned down, picked it up, and read it silently.
“What does it say?” I said, pleading.
Boni swallowed. “It says ‘She wants to see you.’ Who’s you?”
“Why you? She saw me too,” said Boni.
“Maybe it’s not her,” I said.
“Who else would it be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Neither do I.”
“What should we do?”
“There’s a phone number,” said Boni, pointing to the bottom of the paper.
“Then,” I said after my heart fell out of my throat, “we should probably call it.”
Boni sat on a stool in the kitchen and I went to get my phone. When I returned I noticed she was reading the letter again, maybe hoping to glean some other message from the economy of language, a secret within the blankness of the paper surrounding the few words occupying the negative space.
“Ok,” I said, “you want me to call?”
She nodded her head and I called. It rang and then she answered.
“Sorry about the cat and mouse. I need to see you. It’s of the utmost importance. You, of course, know who this is don’t you?”
“I sure do.”
And I did. It was the Democratic nominee for the presidency: (I was not given permission to use her name and everything after this is and will always be off the record) Billary Swinton.
At 2:30 in the morning I left my wife and daughter at our apartment. I went down the stairs and waiting for me outside was the lady with the red hair. I followed her to an idling vehicle at the end of the block. She opened up the back door for me and I took a seat. Then the door was closed and I was taken away.
The yacht was docked at a private marina somewhere on Long Island. It was about 3:30am and the yacht turned on the engines and began driving out to sea. The water was calm but it was windy above the surface. I sat below the deck in a room resembling a professor’s study and I could feel the motion of the ocean’s current swaying under my feet. Those mysterious magnetic forces that direct the sea were now taking me away from land.
Billary walked down the steps and into the study. Her hair was slicked back, she wore a white suit, and her eyes were concealed by sunglasses.
“I like your shoes,” she said referring to my Christian Louboutin sneakers, “did he give those to you?”
“Don’t mess with me. What are you drinking?”
“At this hour I am usually taking a cab home from the bar, not starting my night out,” I said, yawning, “but if you’re offering, I’ll take a double espresso.”
Billary pressed the intercom.
“Sammy, we’ll each take a scotch. I’ll have mine neat, give him a double to wake him up,” then she turned to me and took off her glasses. Her eyes looked tired and red as if she had been crying. She came and sat across from me on what looked like a chair covered in some fancy illegal fur.
“Nice place here,” I said rubbing my eyes, “not the best front yard to play ball with the kids, though.”
“I heard you were a smart ass,” she said as Sammy the butler came into the study and set the drinks in front of us on the glass table, “Sammy, isn’t that right? Doesn’t he look like a big, smelly smart ass?”
“Of course, Madame Secretary, extremely big,” said Sammy as he slithered away to a room unknown.
“So what's the big hullabaloo about, Billary? Couldn’t this have been done over the phone?” I said as I took a stiff sip of the scotch
“You have a problem meeting with powerful people, Mr. Kurke? Or is it because I am a woman.”
“At this hour of night the only woman I want to see is my wife sleeping next to me and my daughter in the crib next to the bed,” I said, the scotch warming up my chest.
“Oh that’s right, Mr. Kurke. You only have a one bedroom...in Bensonhurst. Well, at least you have nice shoes.”
“Well, Secretary Swinton, they are becoming less and less worth the trouble. What’s this all about?”
“I should be asking you the same thing,” she said taking her whole drink in one shot, “you met with my rival Grump in an off the record interview. You wrote about it. Published it. I read it. And I think it’s a bunch of lies. How much did he pay you to write that anal leakage.”
“You have your interpretation. I have mine. I report what I see and hear. Pure and simple.”
“A man of principles, are you? Cut the shit, Sethy Poo. What did he really tell you?”
“Is there actually something more insane than the man running for the presidency as a Republican is really a Democratic spy? This is a complete dismantling of the party founded by Lincoln. Is there something you want to tell me, Madame Secretary?” I said trying to turn the tables.
“Don’t think you’re so smart, Mr. Kurke,” Billary said as she rang a buzzer and Sammy came in to fill up her glass again, “just leave the bottle, Sammy. You can go to bed. Mr. Kurke and I have a lot of things to talk about. I will record the conversation for you and you can listen in the morning.”
I watched Sammy walk up the stairs then I turned back to Mrs. Swinton. Tears were welling up in her eyes and for a split second I had some sympathy.
“You don’t know what it’s like, Mr. Kurke,” she said wiping her eyes and taking a sip.
“Call me Seth. What don’t I know?”
“You think I am going to give my biggest secret of all?”
“Well, it is off the record.”
“Oh, you are sleazier than my husband and yet,” then she moved onto the couch next to me and sat, taking my hand, “I always was a sucker for dirt bags like you... and him.”
I pulled my hand away and took a drink.
Billary took a sip and smiled.
“When my husband was going through his impeachment, the first lady was lonely to say the least. Very, very lonely. I was often in New York already thinking about a change. Perhaps running for the senate. I was dining alone at Bouley in TriBeca. And then he came in, alone. Very, very alone. His wife apparently was out of town. I asked the Maitre D to ask him to join me. Then we dined together. Very, very much together.”
At this point I was all ears. If what I was about to hear was true, it could be the story of the century.
“Who’s wife, Madame Secretary?”
“Ronald Grump’s. It was one of the most passionate nights of my life. We ate things you had never even heard of. We laughed. We went back to his skyscraper and danced the night away listening to music you probably never knew existed. He made me feel like an all-American woman and forget about my husband and all of his sordid blue dress stains. To make a long story short, we consummated adultery. I don’t know why I told you but I did. No one would believe you anyway. I thought, perhaps, Grump told you and your story was a cover. But I had to tell somebody. So there it is. For a minute I loved him, when he was sweating on top of me, heaving and panting. He wasn’t very good in bed but he was a little good. In such a nasty world, Mr. Kurke, a little good can go a long way,” and then she finished her drink, put on her sunglasses, and standing up she said, “well, I must be going Mr. Kurke. I have an election to win. Sorry I don’t have souvenirs for you like those fancy shoes.”
Then she left. A helicopter which I didn’t noticed fired up its propeller atop the fancy yacht and she was whisked away into the air. I had another scotch while the yacht took me back to Long Island. After we docked, I stepped off the boat and the car was waiting for me and took me back to my one bedroom apartment in Bensonhurst where my wife and daughter were waiting.