Only six weeks had passed since he last held a weapon, a beautifully restored Remington 870 Wingmaster pump shotgun. Bought for the specific use of hunting pheasants, it was the maiden voyage for the man and his new toy, the duo going on a Thanksgiving hunt that had netted six birds, two of which made it onto his table for dinner later that same day.
Before that he had owned countless rifles and handguns, a Wyoming man through-and-through, enjoying a weekend hunt as much as the occasional round of target practice out in the acreage behind his home.
Despite all that conglomerated history, not one of those instances were what came to mind as he gripped the Luger 9mm semi-automatic in his right hand and raised it to shoulder height. Feeling the energy it possessed, the feelings it evoked in him, his entire being was deposited back to a time much further back in history, every nerve ending in his body tingling with sensation, allowing him to ignore the burning that resided in his front deltoids from keeping the weapon extended before him.
Instead he was called back to a different continent, back to a time when he wore another type of uniform, but was still very much in the employee of the United States government.
A place where the world existed only in black and white rather than infinite shades of grey.
“Who the hell are you?”
The young man across him from said nothing, merely standing and staring, a single tendril of blood snaking down out of his left nostril.
“Who sent you?”
Still there was no response, heavy breaths lifting the man’s shoulders, sweat streaming down either side of his face, the defiant glare making it clear that he had no intention of answering, the malevolence in his eyes stating he would love nothing more than to be holding the Luger, would not hesitate to use it if given the chance.
Seeing that very thing, recognizing it instantly, the only possible recourse was to shift the gun slightly to the side, the barrel moving from the center of the man’s chest to the fleshy part of his upper thigh.
“Remember, it didn’t have to be this way.”
The bottom hem of Senator Jackson Ridge’s suit legs pulled up just slightly as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the edge of his desk, revealing a few extra inches of his caramel colored calfskin boots. With both legs extended out to full length before him, he avoided the urge to cross them at the ankle, instead keeping them side by side and rotating his toes in unison to either side.
Extending his neck out a few inches, he peered down the length of his nose, inspecting what he saw.
“I tell you, Susie, that new polish guy we have around here is one gifted sumbitch,” he deadpanned, his gaze still aimed at his feet. “Any way we can talk him into heading back to Wyoming at the end of the week?”
Seated on the opposite side of the desk Susan Beckwith, his Chief of Staff for the last sixteen years, forced the corners of her mouth up into a faint smile, glancing once to the senator’s feet before looking him full in the face.
“Good morning to you as well, Senator Ridge,” she replied. “And I’m not sure if Armando is looking to relocate, but we can certainly ask him.”
Having done some variation of the same dance a hundred times over, Ridge let out a low snort, a smile creasing the soft skin on either side of his mouth.
“It’s called sarcasm, Susie. Can you imagine what life would be like for an immigrant from Haiti back in Cheyenne?”
Not expecting an answer in the slightest, knowing none would be coming even if he were, Ridge rotated his focus across the desk and said, “And for literally the last time, would you please call me Jack?”
This time the smile that crossed Beckwith’s features was a bit more sincere, revealing a thin sliver of teeth beneath her muted pink lipstick. “Not for one more day, sir.”
To that Ridge could do nothing but sigh, allowing his head to rest on the top of the leather chair he was seated on, the new position bringing his gaze up toward the ceiling. In his periphery he could see the long familiar trappings of his the space that had been his second home for more than a third of his life, all of it done with a painstaking attention to detail, fully acknowledging his home state of Wyoming.
On the wall above him was a four-by-five elk that he himself had harvested a lifetime before, the cape still as soft and shiny as the day it was shot. Around the edges of the room were stuffed grouse and sage hens, all either taken by his own hand or donated from a visiting constituent.
Behind him, a pair of flags hung limp on their poles, the folds of the American stars and stripes and the red-and-blue bison of Wyoming aligned with perfect precision.
Jackson Ridge had first arrived in Washington, D.C. thirty-six years prior, only five years removed from his service in Vietnam, three more than that from college at the state university, the surprising victor of an emergency election to fill a seat vacated by the sudden fatal heart attack of the longest tenured congressman in the country.
At the time, the decision to run had been something more akin to a dare than an actual plan of any sort, the type of thing only a young man armed with arrogance and the feeling of invincibility would do. A C-student through college, the entirety of his first twenty-five years had been spent in either Wyoming or Vietnam, which for his liking was one place too many.
As one of just a few democrats in the entire state, the choice to run was aided considerably by the fact that he wouldn’t need to appear in a primary, his only intention at the time being to give himself a bit of extra time to make a final decision on the matter.
How he had somehow managed to turn that into a narrow victory to become the sole Representative from Wyoming was something that still boggled his mind, the sort of thing government classes all over the country were dissecting.
Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that he had managed to turn the shocking upset into five more successful runs in the House before jumping over to the Senate, securing four straight terms there as well.
What had started as a crapshoot, a longshot wager that sounded like it might be interesting, had turned into more than three-and-a-half decades, the youthful exuberance that he had arrived to town with now long gone, beaten away by time and reality.
What was left in its wake was something Ridge still wasn’t quite certain of, less sure if he even wanted to know.
“One more day,” Ridge intoned, repeating Beckwith’s words. “Thirty-six years, and we’re down to one last day.”
To that Beckwith again remained silent, just as he suspected she might.
Moving slowly, Ridge pulled his feet back from the corner of his desk, setting them down one at a time on the floor, the heels of the boots echoing out on contact. At sixty-six years of age, he was slowing down for sure, though he liked to believe he was doing a might bit better than most of his colleagues.
Still hanging on to most of his hair, the strawberry-blonde color of his youth had ceded to silver, cut short and pushed to the side. A matching moustache graced his upper lip and drooped down along either side of his mouth, stopping just short of his jawline, clipped to a uniform length.
Standing an inch above six feet in height, he weighed only eight more pounds than he had the day he first showed up at the capitol, his very first suit still tucked away in the corner of his closet, changing fashion styles being the only thing keeping it from being a mainstay in his rotation.
Shifting around to face forward, Ridge laced his fingers atop the desk before him, regarding his Chief of Staff fully for the first time on the morning.
More than twenty years his junior, everything about her gave off the impression that she was the eldest in the room, from the frumpy style of her business attire to the straight brown hair that was forever pulled up high behind her head. Donning the same pointed glass she’d worn since the day she was hired, the effect was to make her eyes look two sizes larger than normal, seeming as if she were perpetually boring her gaze into him.
“So, what’s on the agenda for today?”
The question seemed to be exactly what Beckwith was waiting for, a spark of energy moving through her, putting her into motion. Dropping her attention down to her lap, she flipped open the faded leather organizer she was never without, going directly to the red ribbon tucked down along the top to mark her place.
“January 2nd,” she began, just as she had every morning for years, pausing just long enough to clear her throat. “First thing this morning we have a media event with some of your constituents.”
Making no effort to mask the small groan as it rolled out of him, Ridge allowed his head to drop, his focus on the bare desk before him, his thoughts on the topic clear.
“Those jackals couldn’t leave me alone for one more damn day?”
Brushing past the comment without acknowledgement, Beckwith continued, “These are people that happened to be in town visiting from Wyoming, folks that voted for you in the last election. Shouldn’t be much more than saying thank you and asking a few softball questions, each of the attendees already vetted completely.”
Reading between the lines, Ridge knew that his Chief was telling him to quit complaining and suck it up, this sort of thing being just another of the hundreds he had already performed, some things simply unavoidable when ascending to a post such as his.
“And after that?” he asked.
“After that you are having lunch with the majority caucus to discuss final transition plans.”
“Final transition,” Ridge repeated, the words bitter on his tongue, allowing his face to relay how he felt about the situation, the reality of his situation still a long way from having completely settled in.
If it ever would.
“Are we still getting bombarded by that peckerwood wanting to get here to redecorate?”
Pausing long enough to look up at him, her mouth partially open, a look of disapproval on her face, Beckwith said, “Yes, Senator-elect Hodges has again requested to gain admittance to the office so they can begin making plans for move-in tomorrow, if that’s what you mean.”
It was exactly what he meant, just as they both knew it was, the backhanded comment a perfect summation of Beckwith’s masterful use of passive-aggression.
Moving past it, Ridge waved a hand before him. “No, absolutely not. I am still Senator until noon on the 3rd of January. He can wait until then like everybody else.”
“Sir-“ Beckwith began, barely getting the word out before Ridge again waved his hand her way, cutting her off.
“And you can tell the Senator-Elect that if he has a problem with that he can take it up with the United States Constitution.”
“Section One,” Ridge said, cutting her off for the third time before settling back in his seat, his moustache twitching just slightly as he fought to hold back the smile that threatened to burst forth from him.
Tormenting Susie was truly one of the things he was going to miss in the coming months.
“With all due respect, sir,” Beckwith countered, pushing the words out slowly, as if waiting for him to jump in again at any moment, “everybody else has allowed their successors to begin making plans.”
“Yeah, well, everybody else hasn’t been in the same office for twenty-four years only to get thrown out on their ass by an
Her face neutral, giving away nothing in response, Beckwith stared at him a moment before closing the book on her lap.
Rising from her seat, she pressed the planner against her torso, folding both arms across it, and slowly stepped around to the backside of the chair she had been seated on.
“Yes, well, the media will be arriving here shortly, sir. I’d suggest not saying anything like that while they are here.”