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The Captain

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He’d never seen Sue like this. No, that wasn’t true. Once or twice he had, when they had been arguing. She was stalking up and down his kitchen like a caged animal. She was shivering, rubbing her hands down her arms. Kent gave her a sweater. She pulled it on without looking at it.

‘What did the reporter say?’ Kent asked.

‘She told Sean she had security footage from the conference a couple of years ago. Footage of me going into your room and not coming out until morning.’

Kent gave her a brandy. She downed it immediately.

‘There’s no way a journalist should have access to those,’ Kent said.

Sue held out her glass for another brandy. ‘Apparently it was delivered anonymously from Florida.’

‘Steel,’ Kent said. ‘That’s a significant security breach.’

‘You need to prove that. You need to make her suffer.’

Kent touched her hand. ‘What did Sean say?’

‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ Sue said. ‘Can we go to bed?’

‘I’ll have to make up the bed in the guest room so –’

She kissed him. Her hand slid into his hair.

‘Take me to bed,’ she said firmly.

‘You’re upset,’ he said quietly.

‘I’m angry.’

‘Emotional,’ he offered as a compromise.

‘Aroused,’ she said.

Kent rested her forehead against hers. ‘Sue –’

‘Don’t say no.’

‘You’re only here because you want to hurt Sean.’

‘And?’

‘Haven’t you hurt him enough?’ Kent asked.

‘You know nothing about my marriage,’ she said.

Kent stepped back and put his hands on his hips. ‘I know that you’re not thinking clearly.’

‘You want me,’ Sue said.

‘I love you,’ he said. ‘I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret in the morning.’

Sue stepped forward and kissed him gently.

‘You can sleep in my room,’ Kent said. ‘I’m going to go out but I’ll be back before breakfast.’

Sue raised her eyebrows. ‘You’re not going to do anything... reckless.’

‘No, I’m going to sleep somewhere else because if I remain here I will probably sleep with you. That would be reckless as well as wrong.’

Sue squeezed his hand.

* * *

It was in all the papers. Photos from the conference. Photos of Sue arriving at his house last night. Judging by the angle, someone had been in Mrs Dial’s garden.

‘I fucking told you not to start it up again,’ Ben growled.

Kent and Sue were sat in front of him like naughty school children.

‘We didn’t,’ Kent said.

‘There was no sex,’ Sue said.

‘Then why the fuck were you visiting him in the middle of the damn night?’ Ben demanded.

Sue clenched her jaw. ‘Someone sent the hotel footage to Sean. We had a disagreement. I was disturbed. I went to Kent for emotional support.’

‘Ben, I didn’t stay in the house,’ Kent said. ‘Sue slept there alone.’

Ben cracked his knuckles. ‘Can you prove that?’

‘Yes, I have a security camera.’

Ben sat down and leaned back. ‘Okay, that’s something. What about the hotel? You didn’t sneak out the fire escape did you?’

Sue crossed her legs. ‘I wasn’t married then.’

‘But you were with… uh… Sean?’

‘Yes,’ Sue said.

Ben rubbed his forehead. ‘So your defence is you weren’t committing adultery you were just cheating.’

‘It’s not a crime,’ Kent said quietly.

‘Neither is being a fucking moron but it’s still something we prefer West Wing staff avoid!’ Ben squeezed the bridge of his nose. ‘How did this hotel footage get out? The Washington Post was sniffing around you two but they wouldn’t give their exclusive away.’

‘Might Sean have sent it out?’ Kent asked Sue.

Her cheek twitched. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘He told me that he would humiliate me,’ she said.

‘Nice husband you got there,’ Ben said. ‘I’d love to meet him.’

Sue’s hands tightened.

Kent covered his eyes with his hand. ‘Perhaps we should concentrate on damage limitation.’

‘Put together a statement for the press,’ Ben said. ‘Fuck, neither of you is exactly charismatic. Kent, you do it. Sue will be easier to sell as upset and desperate to make up with hubby if nobody actually sees her.’

‘I am upset,’ she said.

Ben raised his eyebrows. ‘Yeah, I can tell from your completely blank expression and emotionless voice.’ He stood up. ‘I’m gonna brief POTUS. You should both expect to get your asses kicked.’

As the door slammed behind him, Sue stood up.

‘Have you spoken to Sean this morning?’ Kent asked.

‘Why would I?’

Kent clasped his hands together. ‘I thought you wanted to reconcile with him.’

Sue straightened her back. ‘I’m aware I was wrong. I’m aware that I hurt him. I regret it. But I don’t deserve to be publicly pilloried. He knew that we have been over for months but he did this anyway.

‘People may not think rationally when they’re hurt,’ Kent said.

‘Why would you want Sean and I to reconcile?’ she asked.

‘I want you to be happy.’

Sue smiled slightly. ‘Does the martyr nonsense work?’

‘You tell me,’ he said. ‘It’s my first attempt.’

‘It’s fortunate that you left last night,’ she said.

‘Yes.’

‘But I wish that you hadn’t.’ She stood. ‘Mr Davison.’

‘Miss Wilson.’

***

Ben shut Kent’s door behind him. He looked uneasy.

Kent’s stomach clenched.

‘You working on that statement?’ Ben asked.

‘Yes, I’ve got the footage as well.’

‘You don’t need to bother,’ Ben said.

Kent narrowed his eyes. ‘Why?’

‘POTUS has decided it’s better that the White House not get involved in the private lives of staffers.’

Kent sat back. ‘So I should issue this under my own auspices.’

‘No.’ Ben shifted from foot to foot. ‘You know often it’s better to ignore these things and let them burn out.’

Kent stared at him. Ben couldn’t meet his eyes.

‘We are distracting attention away from her latest cock-up,’ Kent said.

‘And how!’ Ben sighed. ‘You know how this works.’

‘I know that throwing the two most competent employees under the bus is irrational,’ Kent said sharply.

Ben barked a laugh. ‘Reality check before you climb up on your cross. There’s a bunch of double standards here and they all benefit you: she’s married and you’re single, she’s a woman and you’re a man. She’s screwing an old rich guy and you’re cuckolding a guy half your age with his young, hot wife. Sue’s the one gonna be called an adulterous, gold-digging slut. You’re gonna be a legend among lecherous old white guys. Lecherous old white guys being the ones who rule D. C.’

‘This is probably going to end her marriage and possibly her career,’ Kent said.

Ben threw up his arms. ‘Do I look happy about it? But she’s a grown woman, Kent. She made her choices.’ He opened the office door. ‘You just have to tell her about the consequences.’

‘Regarding consequences,’ Kent said quietly.

‘Yeah?’

‘If you ever speak of Sue in that way again, call her a gold digger, a slut, or anything else, I will punch you in the other eye,’ Kent said.

Ben nodded. ‘I believe you.’

Kent sat back as Ben left. His hands had clenched into fists. He didn’t even remember doing that.

His cell began to ring. An unknown number.

‘Hello?’

‘Hi Captain,’ a familiar voice said. ‘It’s Chanise. We should talk.’

***

Kent wrapped his hands around his coffee cup. It was too late in the year to be outside in his shirtsleeves, but he knew if he stayed inside he would end up shouting at someone or trashing a piece of equipment. Now was not the time to lose his temper. Now was not the time to alienate potential allies.

He was hidden in a corner of the gardens. It was quiet here and he couldn’t be seen accidentally, someone would have to come looking for him.

Leaves rustled as a branch was pushed aside. Tom James walked into the formerly safe little space.

‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Right where Miss Wilson said you would be.’

‘I had no idea she knew about this spot,’ Kent said. ‘Let alone the circumstances under which I would come here.’

‘She said you come here when you need to think. She’s a master of understatement. An interesting woman. Terrifying, but intriguing.’

‘Terrifying is an underrated charm.’

Tom smiled. ‘A little birdy tells me that last night, when you were supposedly getting intimate with Sue, you were actually here.’

‘That’s correct.’

‘Why hasn’t that been released to the press?’ Tom asked.

‘Because the President is a cunt.’

Tom whistled. ‘Well. I’ve often wondered if there was a real Kent underneath the two-faced staffer smiling stiffly and spinning Selina’s disasters, and there he is. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’

Kent sipped his coffee ‘What do you want?’

‘You,’ Tom said. ‘Not in a… sexual way, although I’m sure you and I together would be scorching hot. No, I want you on my team if I become president.’

Kent straightened up. ‘I assume there is a quid pro quo element to this offer?’

Tom nodded. ‘I take it from your colourful but evocative description of Selina that you haven’t set the record straight because she’s using your situation as a smokescreen?’

‘Astute as always,’ Kent said sourly.

‘I need Selina’s feet back over the fire,’ Tom said. ‘You and Sue being humiliated in the press is no good to me. The President being asked if she conspired to humiliate two staffers in order to avoid bad press, that’s something I can work with.’

Kent shook his head. ‘I have security footage that proves I didn’t return to the house until morning. However, there’s no way I can disseminate it without POTUS knowing it was me.’

‘The logs here and security footage will prove the same thing,’ Tom said. ‘They couldn’t be traced back to you.’

‘I have yet to inform Sue of POTUS’s strategy. I find myself in no hurry to do so.’

Tom offered his hand. ‘It’s all being taken care of. Tell her that.’

***

‘Explain what that means,’ Sue said sharply. ‘I thought you were issuing a statement?’

Kent sighed. ‘POTUS wants this to remain in news rotation. So no statement. No explanation. Just you and I thrown to the wolves.’ He held up his hands. ‘But that is not going to happen. I am taking care of it.’

‘I need this gone,’ Sue said. Her voice was tight. ‘People in my church are whispering and pointing.’

‘I wasn’t aware that you were religious.’

‘I’m not,’ she said. ‘Church is a social endeavour. One which is being destroyed by this.’

Kent took her hand. ‘I need you to trust me.’

Sue let out a breath. ‘I do.’

‘How do things stand with Sean?’

Her lips tightened. ‘He intends to divorce me.’

Kent winced. ‘Will he reconsider when he knows the truth about last night?’

‘No,’ Sue said flatly. ‘I told him everything. He says he would never have married me if he knew I cheated before the wedding.’

‘Sue…I’m… I’m sorry.’

Sue shook her head. ‘I married a man I didn’t love because I was afraid of being hurt.’ She pulled her hand free. ‘Perhaps I deserve this.’

‘Nobody deserves to be cynically used as a smokescreen because POTUS has pissed off the Russians.’

Sue raised an eyebrow. ‘You only care because it’s us. Neither of us would be this angry on someone else’s behalf.’

‘So we’re hypocrites,’ Kent said. ‘We work in Washington.’

***

Sean had taken the day off work. That irritated Kent as much as anything. He had chosen to spread the footage, to pour gasoline on the fire, and then he hid at home while Sue and Kent were thrust into the public eye.

Kent knocked at the door. He didn’t much relish the idea of being punched in the eye, but he appreciated it was perhaps necessary. Deserved, even.

Apologising was bitter medicine. If you actually enjoyed it then something was significantly wrong.

Sean was younger than he expected. In the moment before he recognised Kent, he had quite a pleasant face.

‘What the fuck do you want?’ he demanded.

‘To talk. May I come in?’

‘Sent you to grovel has she?’ Sean asked.

‘You know Sue would never do that.’

Sean stepped back. ‘I guess I could always shoot you. Tell everyone you attacked me.’

‘There are much easier ways for you get life in prison.’ Kent follow him inside. ‘Nobody who knows me would believe I attacked you and if you have a gun then you have it illegally. I’ve checked.’

‘What the fuck do you want?’ Sean asked.

‘This security footage shows that, while Sue did spend the night at my home, I didn’t. I went to the White House. I was there until the morning.’

Sean sat down. ‘What about all those times the reporter was talking about? You were screwing Sue then.’

Kent unbuttoned his jacket as he sat down. ‘I wasn’t initially aware that she had a boyfriend. I can only assume that Sue was unhappy in some way, perhaps made anxious by the speed or seriousness of your relationship.’

‘She told me she married me because I was safe,’ Sean said.

‘She chose you,’ Kent said.

‘She chose safe,’ Sean said. ‘I was in love.

Kent held up his hands. ‘Is it true that you wouldn’t have married her if you had known about me?’

Sean was quiet for a long moment. ‘Yes.’

‘Then this may have a simple and relatively painless solution.’

Sean folded his arms. ‘Fuck that.’

Kent sighed. ‘You’re the wronged party in this. Victimising Sue, however, would be unwise.’

‘Oh, you think?’

‘I know.’

‘Why should I care?’ Sean asked.

‘Because you assaulted Ben Cafferty,’ Kent said calmly.

‘I thought he was screwing my wife!’

Kent shrugged. ‘It doesn’t matter. You committed a premeditated assault on a man with no opportunity to defend himself. Sean, you’re already on your second strike.’

Sean took a step back. ‘I never told Sue that,’ he said quietly.

‘A friend of mine in the FBI read the news and did a little digging,’ Kent said.

‘Don’t…Don’t tell Sue,’ Sean said. ‘Please.’

Kent took a card from his wallet and held it out. ‘This is my lawyer. Ask her about an annulment. She’s expecting your call. This way will be quick and quiet.’

Sean looked at the card. ‘I can’t afford some fancy lawyer.’

‘Under the circumstances, covering your legal fees is the least I can do,’ Kent said.

‘I love her,’ Sean said.

Kent tensed. You want Sue to reconcile?’

Sean looked up. ‘I… No. I can’t... no.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Kent said. ‘If that is worth anything.’

‘Not a fucking thing.’ Sean took out his cell. ‘I hope your lawyer is expensive.’

‘Outrageously.’

‘Good.’

* * *

As Kent approached his office, Ben grabbed his upper arm and dragged him inside.

‘Are you out of fucking mind?’ Ben demanded. ‘Couldn’t you be subtle when you’re screwing us over to save your own fucking skin?’

Kent yanked his arm free. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You released the security logs and security footage!’

‘I did not,’ Kent said firmly.

Ben hesitated. ‘You’re not that good a liar. Where have you been?’

‘Persuading Sue’s husband not to drag her through the divorce courts.’

‘You got them back together?’ Ben asked incredulously.

‘Certainly not,’ Kent retorted. ‘But a speedy annulment is better than a protracted divorce.’

‘Oh.’ Ben scratched his scalp. ‘POTUS is going fucking ape about the leak. Now the press is saying she threw you both under the bus.’

‘She did,’ Kent pointed out.

‘That makes it worse, not better!’ Ben shook his head. ‘I’ll go tell POTUS you didn’t have the guts to leak. Hey was it Sue?’

‘No.’

Ben cocked his head. ‘You know who it was?’

Kent shrugged. ‘Someone with access to the West Wing logs and a desire to embarrass POTUS.’

Ben frowned. ‘So Tom James.’

‘That would seem likely.’

***

It had been a long day. Kent stretched as he waited for his mint tea to brew. A long day of frantically attempting to return disaster to a status quo that was neither fulfilling nor engaging. Sue was going to be single once again. POTUS hated and mistrusted him once again. He had been forcibly reminded that he was expendable, once again. He had allowed himself to imagine that things might be different. That things might be better.

Instead he thrashed desperately in the water and only managed to prolong the time it took him to drown. Nobody was going to throw him a rope. He was alone.

Someone knocked at the door.

Kent looked at the clock. It was late. He was tired. He didn’t have the energy for dealing with reporters. He didn’t have the strength for a confrontation with Sean.

Someone knocked at the door again.

Kent sighed. He walked to the door. Checked the security camera. Then he took a moment to neaten his hair and straighten his clothes.

He opened the door.

Sue was stood on his doorstep. She was shivering despite the warm air.

‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Hello,’ he said.

‘I brought macaroons,’ she said, softly.

Kent smiled. ‘Then you better come in.’