Honorable Mention Story by Will
John Grey sat behind his desk in the Capital Building, the last rays of sunlight filtering through his window. He smiled contentedly. After years of hardships and struggles, he was finally here at the heart of the nation.
He remembered the joy he’d felt as he mounted the podium to give his speech when he won the election in Massachusetts, “I am proud to feel you have chosen me to serve you and only you and I will allow no special interests to influence me!”
They HAD chosen him and he would serve their interests and theirs only. Everything he had done had been for the people. He understood their troubles like no one else in the Senate. He had experienced them: his father was a factory worker and his mother was a secretary in a big office firm in the city. He remembered their worries, listening at the bedroom door, their murmured conversations about the bills piling up, their savings disintegrating.
He remembered his fear, his determination; his resolution to avenge his family. Now he could change it all. Now.
And tomorrow he would have the pleasure of voting for a bill that America had waited for with bated breath. A bill which would change everything. Finally after years of suffering, all Americans would not fret if they needed a doctor. They would get one and not worry about the cost, the endless reams of red tape.
If they were sick, they would be treated. It was as simple as that. Now it was within reach.
The most important legislation in the history of America. It would soon be law. Of course it had faced opposition. The usual people. But their cries of “SOCIALISM!” were drowned by the voice of the people.
And he, John Grey, would be the one who would decide the fate of the bill. He had the pivotal vote. He would be the avenger. Grey’s heart swelled with the responsibility and pride as he thought of it.
A knock on his door shattered Grey’s reflections.
“Come in,” he called. The door opened.
Grey recoiled involuntarily. He recognized the visitor. He was a prominent lobbyist. The intruder was a tall man with hair as black and smooth as oil. His eyes were grey pools filled with cunning. His countenance was vaguely waxen.
“Senator,” he said in an unctuous tone.
Grey stood up, facing the intruder, indignation pulsing through his body. How dare this greasy corporate stooge come in his office? He glared at the lobbyist and advanced toward him.
“What do you WANT?” he barked.
The lobbyist spread his hands. They were unpleasant hands, long fingered and pale. “Senator Grey, I merely want to have a friendly conversation.”
Grey stood considering. Should he throw the scum out? He hesitated, words arrested on his lips but already he knew the lobbyist had occupied his room. Grey gestured toward a chair, not quite an invitation but a signal of surrender.
The lobbyist sat, murmuring gratitude. “What do you want?” Grey repeated.
The lobbyist did not answer directly. Instead he said, “You have not been in Washington long, Senator Grey, have you?”
“I have been here long enough to realize the people like you are what’s wrong with the system,” Grey replied. But as he said it, a vague feeling of unease crept into his stomach.
The lobbyist chuckled, showing perfect ivory teeth. “An audacious response if I do say so myself. However, the point stands that you have only been a senator for a year and you do not seem to have grasped the true nature of politics in this building.”
“I think I understand them,” Grey growled through his teeth, “or I wouldn’t have been elected.”
The lobbyist laughed again. It was a disagreeable sound,ringing with mockery. “I’m not talking about what any first grader knows,” he said, “I’m talking about how things are done in this country behind the scenes. I’m talking, Senator, about your prospects.” The last word rang out hollowly in Grey’s office.
“My prospects?” Grey repeated. Suddenly his insides felt leaden.
“Yes Senator, your prospects in Washington,” the lobbyist smirked. “Senator, you are young, you had ideals, you thought you could change things. Senator, it is painful to break though these fantasies but you can’t change things. It is impossible. All congressmen have learned this. You need our help.”
“Easy for you to say,” Grey sneered but the unease was growing.
The lobbyist said, “You will be safe for three years but after that comes reelection and the key to winning is money. And believe me Senator, we have the power to wipe you off the face of the earth.”
There was a pause, the lobbyist’s words driving though Grey like a stake: “We will wipe you off the face of the earth.”
“Unless…” the lobbyist continued, letting the word dangle before Grey.
“Unless what,” Grey said dully. His hostility was gone now, replaced by heavy acceptance.
“Unless you vote against socialized medicine,” the lobbyist went on. “Then I guarantee we will buy your re-election. You scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours.”
“And suppose in four years you run for President, we’ll buy that too, that’s how it works here in Washington,” the lobbyist said, rising to go. He produced a card and laid it on the desk. “ That’s my number, give me a call.”
And then he had passed out of the room.
John Grey sat alone as the darkness gathered, crowding around him. He sat motionless for a long while, then he reached for his phone and dialed …
Voting day. Grey straightened his suit self-consciously and leaned back on the bench. He listened to the votes. The Senate was divided in half over the bill as was expected. It would be he who would cast the swing vote.
Grey leaned forward expectantly, waiting. “Senator Grey,” the voice of the president of the Senate echoed in the senate chamber. It was his turn now, it was all up to him. For an instant morality flashed through his mind.
The words of his victory speech spun though his mind: “I will serve your interests and yours only.” He was here to serve the people. But then the lobbyist’s words came back to him: “I guarantee we will buy your re-election.”
He opened his mouth; he had made his decision. “Ney.”
He had done it, he had decided. It was easy, really, Grey thought. Just a word.
Then he finally realized the truth about Washington. The revelation didn’t pierce him, it didn’t shatter him. His mind suddenly filled with it like he had known it all his life. Washington wasn’t about the people, it was about money. That was what everything came down to in the end. Money. What did the common people matter, they weren’t important. He was a senator, he wasn’t one of “the people” anymore. They had chosen him and he had betrayed them.
He knew it but he felt no remorse, no guilt. He was above them, he made all the decisions now. He felt no shock at his realization, no waves of revulsion, only contentment. He set his face for the news cameras: a different face, a mask. Insincere, deceitful.
The bang of the gavel rang out. The bill was defeated. He had defeated it. And now he knew about Washington. He knew how to succeed.
John Grey left the Capital building, whistling to himself. He would go out to dinner to celebrate.