I waited, more nervous about this gambit than I would have liked. I'd arrived too early, but I hadn't wanted to miss her. Even though I didn't know who she was.
Oh, I had a name, but I knew women in her profession used aliases. Just like their clients did. Like I hoped my boss had.
I checked my watch again. Finally only three minutes to five. All throughout the city, civil servants were glancing at their own watches, waiting for those three minutes to pass. Three short ticks and they could jam the Beltway on their way home, or head to the bars to toss a couple down while debating the politics of the day.
Just a few short ticks and it would be too late to back out, too late to walk away. I steeled myself.
Two minutes to five.
At least the Congressman was on his way home. Catching my boss in flagrante delicto would have been bad, I reminded myself. Very bad. I didn't want him as an enemy if I could at all help it.
Which made dealing with his hooker even more delicate. I had to handle this just right...
At one minute to five, the lock clicked and the hotel room door opened.
My breath caught. I'd been preparing myself for this moment all week, but my heart still pounded. Would this work? I forced myself to breathe.
She saw me immediately, but just stood in the doorway, studying me. I studied her in return.
She was older than I'd expected. Probably not forty, but certainly not my age. Her conservative black cocktail dress would have fit in at any of the Hill receptions, though the way she wore her hair, long and straight down her back, would have stood out. As would her eyes. Those eyes that engulfed me even now.
"Just you?" she asked.
"Okay." She entered the room and let the door swing shut behind her. She paused a few feet away, looking at me.
Since I occupied the room's only chair, I motioned her toward the bed. She placed her purse on it, but remained standing. She looked at me again, waiting.
"I'm not who you were expecting," I said.
"I had no expectations."
I shook my head. "You were expecting my boss."
She pursed her lips and slowly shook her head. "The desk clerk told me a man had checked in and it wasn't David."
I blinked. "You call him David?"
"That's his name. What do you call him?"
I frowned. Since he hadn't used an alias, why not be honest? "Congressman Smith."
She didn't audibly sigh, but her eyes carried the meaning all the same.
I bristled. "The Congressman is a powerful man. I'm surprised he lets you call him by his first name."
"He's also just a man. And I'm one of his more intimate friends."
"Friends?" I said, arching my brow.
I paused. Could they really be friends? I dismissed the idea—he was paying her.
"Friends. So that's what they call it these days?" I asked.
She raised her eyebrows. "What would you call it?"
"An 'exchange of services' if I'm being polite. 'Spending time with a hooker' if I'm not."
She stared at me, unfazed by my verbal dart, and then chuckled, low and throaty.
My eyes narrowed. "What's so funny?"
"You. You're what, twenty-two?"
"Twenty-three. And what of it?"
She nodded. "You must be the new intern that started last September, right after 9/11."
She looked off into space for a moment, thinking. Then her eyes met mine and a small smile spread across her lips. "Thomas. Thomas Reed."
"And you're Sherri Bryant."
She feigned a curtsey. "You've done your homework."
"Of course I have."
She raised her eyebrows, looking at me. Then she tilted her head toward the mini-bar. "Do you mind... ?"
I shook my head, confused. She wants a drink now?
She slowly walked to the bar. She glanced at me as she extracted some bottles from the fridge.
"David always liked to start with a martini," she said. "Would you like one?"
I again shook my head.
"It'll help you relax."
"What makes you think I need to relax?"
She shrugged. "Are you sure?"
"I'm fine," I said firmly. This wasn't how I'd rehearsed things.
"Okay." She extracted two martini glasses from the bar and set them next to the shaker. "So will David be coming by?"
"No, and I'm asking the questions."
"Oh." She poured vodka and vermouth into the shaker. Then she added a little ice and put the lid on. As she gently shook it, she looked back at me. "So what are your questions?"
"I want to know why he's been seeing you."
"Why should I tell you?"
"Well, for one, I'll pay you. More than my boss normally does." I pointed at the bulging envelope I'd placed on the bureau when I first arrived.
She glanced at it, but didn't immediately react. Instead, she filled both glasses. Taking one, she strolled over to the bureau and studied the thick wad of money.
"That's a lot," she said. "Where'd you get it?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Mmmm, I'm not so sure of that. I know you can't afford it on an intern's salary, which means someone else besides you knows about David and me."
"No they don't."
She raised an eyebrow. "The price for answers from me is answers from you."
I frowned, silently grumbling, but then nodded. Tell as much of the truth as you can, the Congressman constantly said. "I got it from some friends in the Whip's office. I didn't tell them what it was for. Just that I needed it for something important."
"Oh." With that, she did pick up the envelope and thumbed through the bills. "There's quite a lot here."
"It should be enough," I said. "It's ten times what he normally pays you."
"How do you know what he normally pays me?"
"I do my homework."
She set the envelope back on the bureau. Then she returned to the bar and picked up the second glass, holding it toward me. "You sure you don't want a drink?"
"I'm sure," I said with a dismissive wave. "I just want some answers."
"You'll get better answers if you don't treat this as an interrogation."
"Fine." I gestured for her to bring me the martini.
Instead of handing it to me, she set it on the table next to me. She smiled as she leaned over, and I forced myself to not look down her cleavage. At least not for more than a quick glance.
She sat on the bed. Then she looked at me and took a long sip of her drink. "So what do you want to know?"
"Well, first I want to know why."
"Why does that matter?"
I smiled, since I'd anticipated her response. "The Congressman," I said, "is a brilliant man. He understands power and politics better than anyone I know. But if he got caught seeing a hooker..."
She smirked. "You think he doesn't know the risk?"
"Oh, I think he does. I want to understand why he's taking it."
"So why not ask him?"
"I'm not ready to do that."
She arched her eyebrows. "But you think I'll tell you."
I nodded and pointed at the envelope. "Like I said, that should be enough for some answers."
Her lips thinned into a smile. "And like I said, the price for answers from me is answers from you."
She toasted me with her martini. I lifted my own glass and returned the gesture. Our eyes locked as we both took long sips. I stifled a cough—the martini was stronger than I was used to—and lowered my glass.
"Let's start with the easy questions," she said. "How did you know my name?"
"It was on the note he left for Joanne, telling her to cancel this appointment." And which she never saw, since I saw it first.
"My last name too?"
"That's a second question," I said. I paused and then picked up my glass for dramatic effect. "How'd you know mine?"
"David's talked about you. Mostly good."
She raised her glass and looked at me over the rim, her eyes half-lidded. "That's a second question."
I toasted her and we both drank.
"Do you really want to do tit for tat all night?" she asked after we'd lowered our glasses.
"Not unless we have to."
She set her glass on the nightstand and then leaned back, crossing her legs at the knee. Her dress rode up just a bit, though not enough to be anything but lady-like. She studied me for a moment.
"David said you were bright and ambitious. While you'd said you were inspired by 9/11 when you applied for the internship, he says you're not as idealistic as you first appear. He said you reminded him of himself at your age. Smart, and going places."
An involuntary grin slid onto my face. "I've thought so myself."
"Which is why I don't understand why you're here. David would never stoop to blackmail."
"I'm not blackmailing him. I don't want him as an enemy."
She nodded and took another sip of her drink. "Which he would be if you tried."
"I realized that. Besides I doubt it would have worked. Short of taking a picture of you two in the act..." I held up my palms and smiled.
"You never would have gotten that photo."
"I know." Time to play the next card in this gambit. "The only photo I want is one of you, fully dressed."
She arched her brow and her eyes flicked to my backpack leaning against my chair. Smart woman. She's already figured out where I have the camera.
She sipped her drink and considered me again.
"And you want this because..."
"To prove we met," I said. "To prove we talked."
"I'll tell him we talked."
.... There is more of this story ...