Authors: Mikael Carlson
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Political, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Teen & Young Adult
Millfield High School hasn’t changed a bit. Not that I expected
it to in the year and a half since I left. A lot of time has passed since the
last day I worked here, but it still all feels so familiar.
I pull into the parking lot and find a spot reserved for
visitor parking near the front door. This is a first for me. In all the time I
taught in this building, I never used the front door in an effort to avoid the
troll who hides in the main office.
“My, my, the prodigal son returns.” Speak of the Devil. What
are the odds of a man who rarely leaves his office happening to be standing at
the front door the day I walk in? “I didn’t think I would ever see you back
here, Michael,” Robinson Howell sneers.
“Robinson, I think you meant to say
, not Michael. And it’s good to see you outside
your office, now that
2:45 and the students and
most of the staff are gone. I’m glad to see your confidence level is
His face goes beet red in a manner that only I seem to be
able to bring out. Good to see I’m not losing my touch. He looks like he’s about
to come up with some semblance of a response when Charlene Freeman walks out of
the main office.
“I hope you boys are playing nice for once,” she cautions,
knowing full well we aren’t.
Robinson here was just
telling me how wonderful it was having me back in the building and how he’d
love to have me back to teach here if things don’t work out for my reelection
“What a very gracious and generous offer,” Charlene says
with a big smile.
“I thought so. It would be great to work for such a fine
administrator again,” I say, laying it on thick. Before he goes nuclear, she
cuts him off.
“Robinson, will you give me a moment with the congressman,
Howell shoots me a look and storms off, leaving me with the
superintendent of the Millfield Public School District. Again, very little has
changed since I left.
“Love to have you back to teach, eh? Are they putting LSD in
the water down in D.C. these days?”
“It was the best I could come up with on short notice.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” she says, glancing in the direction
Howell disappeared in, “but I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t be great to
have you back in the school district again. What brings you here now?”
“I owe my mentor a visit.”
“I’m sure Chalice is still up in her office, but before you
go, I need to apologize.”
“For what, ma’am?”
“Congressman, you don’t work for me anymore. You can drop
the ma’am thing.”
“Sorry, it’s a force of habit. And I prefer Michael, not
Congressman,” I say, returning her smile.
“We never apologized to you after the truth about the
allegations of the affair came out. More importantly, I never reached out to
apologize to you. I should have, and I’m sorry.”
I give her a nod, but I’m not sure I can accept the apology.
My termination from Millfield was more of a result from the disruption I caused
and my insubordination with Howell than anything else. To say I’ve been sore
over the past year because my former employer could not be bothered to issue an
apology would be an exercise in understatement.
“Are you serious about wanting to return to teaching if you
don’t win a second term?” I look off down the hall in the direction Howell
sulked off in.
“Charlene, we both know that won’t ever happen, at least not
here.” She nods, understanding that my reemployment would never be accepted by
the school board. “But please feel free to mention it in passing to Howell. The
token consideration of it would make him go postal.”
“You bet. Now, you’d better get up there before Chalice
leaves. It was great seeing you again,
* * *
“I apologize, I’m not going to have my lesson plans in
on time this week,” I announce as I reach the door.
“Oh my God!”
jumping out of her chair and moving around the desk in her cramped office to
give me a hug. “You look great! How are you, Congressman?”
Cut that crap out. You are the very last person
I’ll ever let call me that. But I’m good, thank you, and yourself?”
“Another year under Robinson Howell and another year closer to
retirement,” she says with a smile. “Every day I take the bad with the good.
Did you run into Jessica while you were wandering the halls?”
I was afraid this would come up. Chalice was always partial
to my ex-fiancée, and I’m sure would love nothing more than to see us get back
together. She likes Kylie, but until there is a ring on her finger, she will
always be rooting for Jessica.
“Chalice,” I warn with a look that prompts her to hold up
her hands in mock surrender and change the subject.
“So, what brings you home?”
“I flew in this afternoon for our constituent work week in
“Look at you, Mister Jet-Setter.”
”Yeah, not so much, but working with the people in the
district is about the only part of this job I still enjoy.”
“Of course it is. You’re a natural problem solver. You
didn’t answer my question though. I asked why you’re
Chalice has always had a low tolerance for small talk with
her teachers. She was an amazing boss and understanding advisor, but she could
also be a cut-to-the-chase taskmaster. It would have made her an extremely
effective principal. Instead we ended up with Howell.
“To see you.
I need some advice.”
“Let me guess. Congress isn’t what you’d thought it’d be?”
“That’s putting it mildly. Don’t plead ignorance, Chalice. I
know you watch the news.”
“I do, but I never put much faith in the accuracy of their
reports, especially when they’re about you. ‘The most effective way to destroy
people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.’”
Orwell. Very nice, but I have another for you. ‘
who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls
the past.’ That’s how these people I have to deal with get elected year after
She offers a seat across the desk from her, although I have
to move a pile of folders to sit in it. She sits in her own chair, reaching
over to turn off her computer monitor to avoid the distraction of e-mail
notifications that seem to be pouring in.
did a poll in 2011 and found less than forty percent of Americans knew the term
of office for a senator was six years. I used that study as a teaching tool and
posed the same question to my students. Can you guess how many knew the right
“I can only imagine.”
Just fifteen percent, Michael.
The people can’t be bothered
to know how long their representative’s term lasts, so it’s no surprise how
easy they can be manipulated. Of course, that was before the rise to power of
the iCandidate …”
“Rise to power,” I say derisively. “That’s a joke. Blake
Peoni is telling me to get my head out of my ass,
“Wait! Blake Peoni?”
“Yeah, it’s a long story. Anyway, Kylie wants me to mix it
up with the most senior politicians in the country, and my mutinous staff is
encouraging me to start a revolution.” Chalice raises an eyebrow. “As in
changing the way the House works, not overthrowing the whole government.”
“Ah. Well, they’re all correct.”
“Yeah, I knew you’d say that. But, to be honest with you, I
don’t think I have any more fight left in me.”
“I see,” she says
with the same disagreeing pout I once got on a regular basis. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“You need a little reminder of who you are, and I know just
the place you can get it.”
I follow her out of the office and through the adjoining
work room to the hallway. There are still a few students wandering the hall,
and a couple even give me the patented head nod teenagers like to use as a form
“Michael, you were a dedicated soldier,” she says as we head
down the hall. “You earned the Distinguished Service Cross in Afghanistan, and
I know you don’t think you deserved it, but you also told me once the mission
saved a lot of lives.”
“What’s your point, Chalice?”
“I’m getting to it, so don’t be fresh.” She always did know
how to keep me in line. “You could have chosen not to run in the special
election. You lost to Beaumont, and you fulfilled your obligations to your
students for the bet, but you ran again anyway. The voters responded by
overwhelmingly sending you to Washington. They asked you to serve once again,
and you couldn’t say no, because just like your time in Special Forces, your
devotion to this nation is part of who you are.”
We stop at my old classroom and she walks in, flipping on
the lights as she enters. I’m amazed at what I see. Every print, poster, and
piece of memorabilia I had on the walls is in the exact place I left it. My
room was always the most extravagantly decorated in the building, and not one
thing has changed. Even more to my surprise is the layout of the room. The
desks are still set up in a horseshoe.
The seating arrangement in a semi-circle gave me a “stage”
to work on, and both my students and I came to call it that. It’s not a style
most teachers prefer, so I don’t understand why it was preserved. As I move to
the center of it, and look at the seats where my students would have been
sitting, I feel like I’m home again. I can almost imagine Xavier, Vince,
Amanda, Vanessa, Brian, Emilee, Peyton, and the rest of the honors American
History class all staring back at me.
“What do you think?”
“It’s just like I left it. Is my replacement trying to be me
“No, he realizes he’s never going to be you. Nobody can. But
he is trying to emulate you, and do you know why?”
I hear the question, but I am lost in my own thoughts as I
look around the room. The posters of Washington, Lincoln, and Martin Luther
King, Jr. still look down on the classroom from their spots on the wall.
“Let me answer that for you. He emulates you because it
works. You think you’re in this fight with the political elite alone, but
you’re not. There are a lot of people in this country who feel the same way you
do, and they will fight with you to do what must be done. All you need to do is
decide to step up and lead them.”
“I think the time for that has come and gone,” I say with a
tinge of regret. Maybe I should have visited six months ago. I’m not sure
Blake’s pleadings, my staff’s intervention, or even Chalice’s reminder can make
a difference now.
“Let’s go back to your Orwell quote. ‘
who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls
the past.’ The last time you taught in this room, that’s exactly what you did.
I know you can do it again.” She looks at her watch and edges toward the door.
“It’s quitting time for me, so I have to get going. It was great seeing you
again, Michael. Good luck.”
The last time I stood in this room, I addressed my students
after we lost to Beaumont. Then, as now, I could almost feel the eyes of
Washington and Lincoln stare down at me. Back then, I hoped they were proud of
what I was trying to do.
I pull my
out of my pocket
and select the number from favorites. As I wait for her to pick up, I can only
hope Washington and Lincoln will again approve of what I’m about to do.
“Hey, Chels, it’s me. Yeah, things are fine, but I need you
to do me a favor,” I say, waiting for her to ask what it is I need. “Have Blake
set up that meeting. If we’re going to go all
and start a war, I’d better find out what heavy
artillery I can bring to the fight.”
The Capital Grille offers a stunning view down
Pennsylvania Avenue and a panoramic view of the Capitol that makes me yearn for
the position I held a year and a half ago. Although my time in the Senate was
spent dining at more frequented establishments like the Charlie Palmer Steak,
this place still brings me back to the good old days. The food, service, and
ambiance are pretty good, too.
That’s not saying this restaurant isn’t enjoyed by power
brokers in Washington. Even with Congress in recess for the weekend, a couple
of political players are seated only a matter of feet away from me. Weekends
are not high tide for deal making, but hopefully I’m about to make one for
He’s late, so I order the pan-seared Chilean sea bass with
citrus and pea tendrils and sip on a glass of chardonnay as I wait. When he
finally enters the restaurant fifteen minutes late, I can’t help but notice he
looks like he got hit by a bus.
“Nice cheek, Blake. Did you get mugged or something?” I say,
offering the seat on the other side of the table.
“No, a mugging would have been easier. I had the unfortunate
experience of pissing off a Green Beret,” he explains, taking his seat. Oh, I
like this guy already. I just hope that Blake’s lacerated cheek, fat lip, and
broken ego are not a bad omen for me and what I want.
“So I’m to assume that your damaged face means my request
will go unfulfilled?”
“Never assume, Senator. Chelsea called yesterday afternoon,
just as I said she would. My little speech got through to Congressman Bennit.
He wants to meet you.” Excellent!
“Thank you, Blake. I knew you would come through in setting
that up,” I say, tempering my enthusiasm and taking care to repress my true
thoughts. A meeting with Bennit set up by Blake was a long shot, and I didn’t
have much confidence that he could get it done.
“You’re welcome. Consider it thanks for getting me my job.
We’re even now.”
“Even? Oh no, I don’t think that’s a fair trade. But you
know what? I’m in a good mood, so yes, we can call it square.” Getting Blake
his bottom-feeder job was really a piece of cake, but he doesn’t need to know
that. “Can you stay for lunch?” Please say no …
“Thank you, but no. Even as a menial laborer, and with
Congress out of town, the Washington lobby never rests. Tell me something,
Senator. Why are you taking an interest in Bennit? I mean, not that I think he
wouldn’t appreciate your help. But why now?”
I don’t have a high opinion of Blake. He thinks far more of
his capabilities than what he actually possesses, and may have been a trusted
advisor to Winston Beaumont, but that man was an idiot anyway. Only a fool
wouldn’t make certain a paper trail detailing illegal activities was destroyed,
or better yet, never created in the first place. Now he is on the way to the
clink along with members of his senior staff. Blake may have escaped a date
with prison rapists by selling him out to the Feds, but being permanently
banished to the lowest rung of the political ladder may feel like the same
“The world is an unjust place. I learned that in my
reelection campaign, and I think you learned it as well. I’m just looking to
ensure another fine representative in government is not cast out because he’s
how we can get our
That sounded believable. Despite my low regard for him, I
can’t afford to trust Blake. I don’t think his agenda will mesh with mine in
the long run, so he has to be kept at a distance and out of the loop. I only
need him now to gain Bennit’s trust so I can do the same.
“Tomorrow, one p.m., the National Archives,” Blake says,
accepting my ridiculous answer and rising from his seat. “And don’t be late. He
was a teacher. I know he hates that.”
“Duly noted,” I say, using the same broad smile I flashed at
every stop on the Virginia campaign trail eight years ago. “Have a nice day,
Blake. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.”
Blake nods and heads for the exit just as my server arrives
with lunch. I have a meeting that I am actually looking forward to for the
first time since I lost the election. This could change everything. Yep, the
political winds define who wins and who loses, and a front is about to blow