THE subway that ran underground between the Capitol and the Senate office buildings felt more like a mining cart than a train. It always reminded Senator Davis Hudson, Democrat from Connecticut, of a ride at a third-rate amusement park. It lurched as it rattled along but kept a steady pace, and as you rode you got to see the flags of each of the fifty states, lined up in patriotic order beneath city streets. All that was missing was a crowd of robot children singing “It’s a small Congress, after all.”
Of course, it wasn’t a small Congress, not by a long shot. It was big enough, and expansive enough, that the Capitol couldn’t hold all the members and staffers and offices. Thus the separate building from which Davis was commuting on his way to make a floor speech. Davis was starting to feel he’d outgrown the place. Sure, the Capitol was handsome, but taking the Disney train between the chamber and his office was getting to be tedious. He thought he’d outgrown riding the subway when he moved out of Boston to start his first business in Connecticut all those years ago. At least he worked on the Senate side, which at one hundred members was still a good sight less crowded than the four-hundred-plus-strong cacophony called the House. There was room to breathe in the Senate.
But Davis was interested in more than just breathing room. He’d gotten tired of filibusters and motions to proceed. The thing about the Senate was, it didn’t work unless you had one hundred senators agreeing to let it work. Any senator could, at any time, throw a wrench in the works and bring the whole clanking machine to a halt. Frustrating for a man who made his fortune as the guy who pushed the button and things got done, which was all he had to do as a CEO, as a lieutenant governor. And now he was one in a glacial throng of go-along-to-get-along suits. The whole Greek choir thing was making him itchy.
Today was likely to change all that. The speech he clutched in one hand was the kind of speech people paid attention to on Capitol Hill—a fire-breathing polemic against the other party’s entire agenda, with fantastic sound bites built in. Press releases and embargoed copies had gone out about an hour ago. When Davis stood up and exited the subway car, two of his aides were waiting, toting a number of very flashy charts. They had to be flashy. People were going to be paying attention to this. That was the whole point.
“A party that prevaricates, dissembles, fixes the odds, and fudges the numbers,” he mumbled to himself as they walked briskly down the narrow hallway. “A party that looks the other way, that turns up its nose and pulls the wool over your eyes. Mr. President, this Senate is a den of liars!”
That was the killer line. Davis didn’t flub his speeches, but he felt it necessary to give this one extra care. It’d be run over and over on the cable networks, and if he was lucky, he’d have a chance to reinforce it too. Candidates dreamed of killer lines like that. Not that Davis was a candidate for anything besides reelection, at this point. But times could change.
An aide ran up to him, a young man named Rafe who had been promoted to chief scheduler the previous week. “CNN wants you,” he said. “For the six o’clock broadcast. You’re free. Should I confirm?”
Davis nodded. That was the green light he’d been hoping for. A fish had bitten at his line at long last, and his heart pounded as it hadn’t since the campaign when he’d first run for the office. A door would open now that hadn’t been open before.
Things had a tendency to become stagnant on Capitol Hill. Senators in particular served six-year terms, which gave them a few years of freedom from the reelection grind and had allowed Davis to spend the past few years delving into the minutiae of policy without looking up and paying attention to his fundraising situation, or what the polls were saying, or what the NRA or Greenpeace had given him as a purity-test score this quarter. But Davis’s natural tendency was to keep moving onward and upward. That was what had taken him from academic to entrepreneur, from there to executive, to politician, to lawmaker. He’d been here five years, and he’d gotten used to it, which was usually a sign he needed to move on.
But where was there to go for a senator? Not much opportunity above that, aside from being appointed to a Cabinet seat or maybe trying for one of those top two spots. Davis wasn’t sure he was ready for that plunge, but he sure as hell didn’t want to rule it out either. He knew the potential was there. He had been told he was camera-ready, he was charming, he could speak. He just hadn’t decided yet what to say.
Until now. The Republicans had put out the kind of budget package that ought to be embarrassing to any citizen who cared about the middle class and the health of small businesses. So Davis was jumping off the Disney train and into prime time.
THE Senate chamber itself was nearly empty, as usual. Senators were in and out on committee assignments, meeting with lobbyists and fundraisers, marking up legislation, shouting at aides, and drinking liquor at three o’clock in the afternoon. These were the usual rhythms of the Capitol, predictable and expected. The whir of shutters as Davis approached the podium was a little out of character, but he was expecting that too. He didn’t look at the cameras, just proceeded as though he were alone, descending soberly into the center of the chamber.
“Mr. President,” he said, addressing the president pro tempore of the Senate, a senator chosen to preside over the chamber for the time being. Technically, the vice president was the Senate’s presiding officer, but he only actually showed up for extremely important votes and other ceremonial occasions. Every other time, “Mr. President” just referred to whoever was sitting in the chair for the moment.
After a few formalities, Davis’s aides had positioned themselves on the floor, the chamber was quiet, and he was ready to speak. Inexplicably, a thrill went through him. This could be his downfall; he could spend the next week walking back his words if it went badly. But if there was anything of the spiritual in Davis, who was in essence a practical man, it was thrumming now with a premonition. These words, the forty minutes’ worth of charts and facts and constituent stories, were the beginning of something.
“Mr. President,” he began, “when I was a boy, my father told me Bible stories. One of my favorites was the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. I told my father this once and he smiled, said to me, ‘Of course you know Daniel didn’t fight the lions, right?’ He thought that, like most boys, I must have confused it with some sort of He-Man, pro wrestling, American Gladiators-type of show.” He gave a rueful smile as though sharing a private joke. “But I said to him, ‘Dad, I know. I get it.’ It wasn’t about the fight. It was about Daniel going in there in the first place. Just to have that courage, that strength to go in and look into the lions’ eyes, to say I have faith that it won’t have to come to blows or blood.
“And then I grew up, and I turned my eyes to Washington. And I heard tales of the Senate as a lions’ den. These strong-willed men and women, in the proudest traditions of our Founding Fathers, standing up for the right of all Americans to live and breathe freely in this nation and to pursue happiness without the yoke of a tyrannical government. Without the selfishness of unaccountable leaders who can look only to enrich themselves and their friends, who can pound the people into the ground without any fear of retribution. I wanted to walk into that den a Daniel myself. Willing to look the lions of the Senate in the eye and offer my own ideas, give my own perspective, and forge together a better, a more perfect nation.
“To this day, call it delusions of grandeur, but I still see myself as a Daniel. And I still think we can forge a consensus here without it coming to blows or blood. But on days like today, with proposals like this, Mr. President”—and here Davis slammed his copy of the budget proposal on the dais—“I find my beliefs sorely tested!”
The speech filled him with fire. By the end—by his killer line—Davis was fuming, red-faced, for an instant a true believer in the carefully calculated and meticulously edited sentiments on the pages of his speech. He was righteousness in a land of corruption; he was preaching to the godless.
And then he was himself again, and he knew what he’d done.
He’d batted it out of the park.
He hid the grin as far as the Capitol rotunda, walked smoothly along the echoing tiles through the portrait gallery, and then, as he slid into his car, burst into a triumphant smirk. “Jesus, yes,” he hissed, not even loud enough for the driver to hear, but it was enough. His life was going to switch into a whole different gear now. He’d be the subject of angry talk radio hosts’ polemics; his name would be mentioned on Bill Maher and Jon Stewart; he’d be invited to every political TV show. He’d be known now, and not just on the campaign trail and to his constituents and the lobbyists who targeted his committee assignments.
Or everyone could dismiss it as a publicity stunt and his fame could fade within a week. Some of that was the luck of the draw, and if it was destined to be a flop, time would tell. But Davis had never been one to cede to the inevitable.
THE car drew up to CNN headquarters, the last in a cluster of buildings on First Street just below the rumble and shudder of Union Station. Subways and trains made noise overhead, and as Davis walked through the small office park leading to the front door, he drew more than a few stares from employees on their dinner breaks. One even shouted, “Way to go, Senator,” as though he’d just led troops into triumphant battle rather than said a few well-chosen words on a nearly empty Senate floor. It was heartening.
The noises of the station faded almost immediately when the glass doors fell shut behind him. The CNN building was quiet, prim, and efficient downstairs, but a floor up, brass-plated elevator doors opened onto the sort of madness that was usually reserved for the sawdust of a circus tent. Interns rushed to and fro with clipboards; a rather famous television personality was leading an entourage of aides, all of whom were taking notes as he droned on in his familiar, tuneless tone; a buxom receptionist called out to Davis and waved him forward with a pink-painted smile. “Senator, this way, please.”
He was shuttled forward through a row of examiners who considered changing his tie, ran a comb through his hair, and made sure he was comfortable with the line of questioning from the political correspondent who’d be conducting the interview. Eventually, they fell away into silence, and he was ushered into a green makeup chair before an unevenly lit mirror. Davis sat and was, for a long moment, utterly abandoned and forgotten.
The transition from chaos to silence was so absolute that Davis thought for a moment he’d gone deaf. He looked around, surprised, taking in the emptiness of the room but for rows and rows of tan-pink blends in tiny circular compacts like buttons on a futuristic control panel. He felt like a captain in a sci-fi show, ready to press forward into the unknown. If only he could find the right button to push.
He looked down at his lap, then into the mirror, examining his own face. “The Senate is a den of liars!” he mouthed, watching the cadences of his brows furrowing, his eyes flashing. All so well choreographed, so often practiced, that if there had been any sincerity in the movements when he dreamed them up, it seemed beyond lost. At least this place had no pretense about being a fabrication of reality. The Senate ought to have a makeup chair, as well.
Maybe that was why, although he’d spoken those words on the Senate floor, this moment felt so much more important. He had delivered the speech, knocked on the door of fame, but that had been a rite. Now he was about to put on that makeup and stride permanently into the public eye. Once he was on the air, he’d be effectively a different person than he’d been up to now. A new Senator Hudson was being born, and this place was the delivery room.
The voice behind him was bass, gravelly and rich. Davis’s gaze strayed from his own reflection to that of a tall man with a thin face and a mane of shaggy black hair. His eyebrows stretched expressively over gray-green eyes glinting with calm amusement. It was a good face, the sort of face that immediately invited you in.
“About the Senate being a den of liars.”
“Ah.” Davis offered a guilty smile. Had he been caught mouthing into the mirror? It was hard to tell, and the man wasn’t giving him any clues. He circled round the chair, blocking Davis’s view of himself in the mirror. Up close, he was much more solid-looking.
“Do you mind if I use my hands?” he asked abruptly.
The man smiled. “Sorry. I usually don’t even ask. People are so particular about germs these days. I’ll use a sponge.”
It then dawned on Davis that this was the makeup artist. It should have been obvious from the start—makeup stains on his shirt notwithstanding, and there were plenty of them, he had crossed the room like he owned it. Davis felt a little stupid to have just come to this realization.
He glanced at the man’s hands. They looked clean enough. Clean and long fingered, with enticing crooks at the knuckles and veins rising up out of the skin. Signs of hands well used, he thought. A thumb ring glittered on his right hand, the only ornamentation. “Go right ahead,” Davis said, his eyes fixed on the bright bar of light where the ring reflected the overhead fixture. “I don’t tend to worry so much about germs.”
“Oh?” Shaggy eyebrows furrowed. “You’re a rare breed.”
“Your hands are clean, aren’t they?”
The man’s lip curled into a half pout. “Of course.”
“Then go right ahead.”
“You’ll look way better than if I used a sponge. I have a technique.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“Oh, did that sound sleazy?” The man laughed, not appearing concerned about offending so much as intensely amused by the possibility.
Davis watched him sort through twenty shades of tan-salmon-pink-white, rearranging cases and compacts as though trying to fit together a jigsaw puzzle. His hands moved with practiced ease, and the idea of those fingers patting makeup into his skin was oddly appealing. They looked so familiar, so trustworthy. “Was it meant sleazy?”
“Of course not.” The man paused as though considering whether to say more. His face intrigued Davis intensely. It was long, with gentle features and a handful of lines that spoke of both laughter and worry. And it shifted as his hands moved, as though features and fingers were doing a long-distance pas de deux, moving with a synchronicity of purpose and emotion that Davis had rarely seen. He had the sense of watching not just a makeup man but an actual artist in motion.
“I’m surprised you don’t have your own,” the man said.
Davis arched an eyebrow. “Do most people?”
The fingers unscrewed a round jar, then went pat-pat-pat, picking up the pink-tinted color. “Most people who are regulars on the news show circuit, sure. They don’t like a different person touching their face every day.”
Davis kept gazing at the skilled movements of the man’s hands. “Well, I’m not a circuit regular, I guess.”
“Not yet.” The man turned, sat down across from Davis, and leaned in to start padding makeup-stained fingers across his face. “I have a feeling you might be heading in that direction.”
“Maybe.” His hands were too close to watch any longer. But Davis would have sworn he could feel every line of his fingerprint. And now his eyes were fixed on the man’s face, on shocking green eyes. They gazed with such focus on the crease between Davis’s eye and the bridge of his nose that Davis was afraid they might burn a hole in it.
“You have a good face,” the man said. “Photogenic, I’m guessing. You should come back.”
So do you, Davis thought and was momentarily alarmed that he’d thought it. “Only if you’ll do my makeup again.”
“You don’t even know how you look.”
“I trust you.”
The eyes, until that moment so focused on his skin, met his own, and Davis felt a bright shot of sunshine go through his gut.
“You’re very trusting, for a politician.”
“I’m a good judge of character.”
The man laughed, and his teeth flashed a brief coffee-stained beige at Davis.
“Whom should I ask for when I come back?”
The man leaned back, crossed his arms, and regarded Davis. Pink foundation caked on his sleeves where his fingers landed. “Kurt,” he said slowly. “Kurt Lamb.”
“Davis Hudson.” Davis extended a hand.
“I know. And my hands are covered with makeup.”
“I’ll have very photogenic hands, then.”
Kurt stared at him another second, then burst out in another loud laugh. His hand fell into Davis’s like a weight. Davis looked down at the intimate, gentle wrap of Kurt’s fingers around the heel of his palm and felt as though he’d just been taken prisoner. It took muscle for him to pump Kurt’s hand and willpower to let go.
His hand was tingling and his heart was pounding oddly as he was escorted to the set, and he wasn’t prone to stage fright. The weight of Kurt Lamb’s hand had knocked him off-balance, and he had to take a few deep breaths to find his center again.
It helped to see the chair waiting for him, the monitors featuring his face and the phrase DAVIS IN THE LIARS’ DEN emblazoned beneath it. It also helped to see the correspondent, a regal-looking redhead with a pert nose, following her cue as they sat him down, and leaning toward the camera with “A bold speech today from a senator who may be a rising star in his party—Senator Davis Hudson, Democrat of Connecticut, is our guest after this message.” The cameramen signaled the all-clear a moment later, and she crossed the room to sit across from him, lifted her hand, and offered it along with a welcome. He accepted, but hers wasn’t the hand he felt.
Business first, though, genial business. “I liked your introduction,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, and “welcome.”
“So I had an interesting talk with the makeup artist,” he said. “Seems to think I’ll be back here. Do you agree?”
“We’ll see how it goes,” she said. A moment later she added, “I assume you’re talking about Kurt?”
“Yes, that was his name.”
“He’s pretty good at spotting trends like this. He comes from media analysis.”
“And now he’s doing makeup?”
She smiled. “Sometimes I guess you go for your passion.”
“Hm.” Davis turned toward the back of the studio, wondering if Kurt was in one of the other rooms watching, maybe even hearing this conversation. It hardly seemed the kind of thing he should be worrying about right now. Trying to put his mind back on track, he ran through budget numbers and talking points in his head. At least he could trust his tongue to say the right things, even if he was distracted. A lifetime in the public eye would do that to you.
Then the director caught their attention and the cameramen swung into position. “In five, four, three….”
Davis didn’t remember much of what happened after that. He was sure he was asked about decorum, about calling his fellow senators liars. Davis had a ready answer for that one, but a question about a policy he’d supported as lieutenant governor didn’t fly quite so smoothly. In all, though, he knew he had evaded and persuaded just about as well as he usually did. It was neither an appearance to ruin him nor to bring him to the fore, and that was all right. He’d already had one such appearance today; there was no need to push the envelope with more. In politics, sometimes you made a splash, but most of the time you just kept your head above water.
He lingered in the lot in front of the building afterward, staring wistfully at the odd red sculpture that stood in the center, making a statement that was as definitive as it was incoherent. It was a mess of hooks and curves and straight lines, like someone had fashioned it after an unruly pile of clothes hangers, and it was impossible to tell which direction it was supposed to be facing. He couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but he couldn’t stop trying.
“To me, it’s the perfect metaphor for the twenty-four-hour news cycle,” said a voice behind him. A gruff growl painted the end of the words.
Davis looked over his shoulder in time to see Kurt Lamb stroll up, a heavy tote in hand. “It’s loud, constant, and says absolutely nothing,” Kurt went on, offering a grim smile. “No offense, of course, Senator.”
“Which side’s the front?” Davis asked, circling the sculpture slowly.
“Hm.” Kurt lifted a finger to his chin. “I never thought about that. Even more perfect as a metaphor. No matter how you look at it, it’s always leaning in the wrong direction.”
Davis laughed. “That’s clever.”
“That’s how I pass my time,” Kurt said. “Inventing relevant metaphors.”
“You’d be a good speechwriter, then.”
“Oh, I’ve done my time with words.” Kurt lifted his free hand, palm spread as though in surrender. “Much prefer to stick to colors and shapes now. Nursery school was more fun than kindergarten, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would, if I remembered that far back,” Davis said.
Kurt made a small noise and nodded, and Davis fell silent. In the presence of both Kurt and the statue, he was suddenly torn as to which he’d rather stare at.
“Mr. Lamb, was it?” he said, to fill the silence of empty evening air.
Kurt made a face. “Kurt. Please.”
“Fair enough.” Davis shrugged and held back a grin. That was how he’d already been thinking of him. “Did you enjoy the interview?”
“Define ‘enjoy’.” It was far more pointed a response than Davis expected, and after an instant of blank-faced blinking, he laughed. Kurt took it in stride. “But I am just as entrenched in my positions as you are. I’m always expecting something I don’t end up getting. It’s not personal.”
“You know, I have to admit, I’m curious about you. You seem far too smart to be patting at people’s faces all day long.”
Kurt laughed. “It’s a long story. I couldn’t tell you now. Not with your driver scowling at me like that.”
Davis glanced over; the man in the black suit and cap had his arms folded crossly. “You’re right, I’d better get moving. Call my office. I’d like to sit down with you sometime. If that’s all right.”
“It’s all right with me.” Kurt said. His brow was furrowed in a way Davis couldn’t place the meaning of. “Are you sure it’s all right with you?”
Odd question. Davis scowled back at him. “I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t.”
“Anyway, call my office. I’ll let my secretary know to patch you through to me.” He broke into a walk, calling back toward Kurt, “I’ll see you soon, Mr. Lamb.”
Davis nodded without looking over his shoulder, but he was grinning. It was the oddest thing, really—Davis had the opportunity to meet so many fascinating men in his life, people who had done great things. Yet his attention had been captured by a makeup artist with whom he’d exchanged a few dozen words in passing. And as he rode away, Davis’s mind was not on the speech he’d so carefully prepared or the implications of his newfound media attention, but on the mystery behind the green eyes of Kurt Lamb.