A Call from the Senator
So the Senator calls me and says, “Higs, what do you know about carbon monoxide?” He’s full of oddball questions and you never know when he’s going to ask them.
Now, although I’m a chauffeur, I don’t know any more about carbon monoxide than the next guy, but one thing my father taught me was if the Senator asks you something, don’t say you don’t know. Make something up until you can find out. I need a little time to get to my laptop so I stall him. “Senator, it’s 3:30 in the morning.”
“I am aware of that, Higs. I may not know much about carbon monoxide, but I do know how to tell time.”
“No disrespect, sir. It’s just I was asleep and wasn’t thinking about carbon monoxide. I mean not consciously. Has your CO alarm gone off?” The free wireless in the motel is worth just what you pay for it—not a goddamn thing.
“Your father always had an answer for everything. I could ask him anything. He didn’t go to college. I’m not sure he even graduated high school.”
“He did graduate high school. When he was twenty-four.”
“He was self-educated like Benjamin Franklin. Franklin left school at the age of 10. But do you know something, Higs?”
“Sure I know something.”
“He invented the lightning rod. Think about that.”
I take the laptop from the desk and walk around looking for a hotspot. I’ve got a hard on, why I don’t know. Sometimes I just wake up with one.
“Yeah, Senator. The lightning rod. I’m thinking about it.” Finally I get two bars on the laptop—in the bathroom. I sit on the toilet and do a search for carbon monoxide.
“And do you know what else your father was?”
“Lighter than air,” I tell him.
“Carbon monoxide, Senator. It’s lighter than air.”
“Okay. That’s good to know. Your father, Higs, he was—”
I’m scanning the entry on carbon monoxide as fast as I can. “Tasteless.”
“Let me tell you, he had better taste than half my colleagues on the Hill. Or any other chauffeur anywhere in the free world. Your father’s ties were legendary.”
“I mean carbon monoxide, Senator. Tasteless, odorless, colorless. It’s invisible.”
“In other words, you can’t see it,” says the Senator.
“Well put, sir.”
He pauses. “Am I disturbing your wife, Higs?”
“Yes. You’re in bed, aren’t you?”
Now I pause. I know I have to tell him eventually, but I was hoping to put it off for a while. “I’m not home.”
“Not home? Where are you?”
“At the Ranch.”
“The ranch? What are you doing at a ranch in the middle of the night?”
“The Ranch Motel, sir. Off Route 32.”
“For God’s sake, Higs. Your father would be ashamed of you.” Then a long pause. “Ashamed of us both.”
“Senator?” It sounds like he’s crying. “You’re breaking up.”
“Go back to your wife. Before it’s too late.”
“I can’t, sir. It’s already too late. She threw me out. That’s why I’m here.”
“For God’s sake.”
This is what I was afraid of. The Senator’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is the straightest arrow. Five terms, thirty years, and not a breath of scandal, not even an unkind word in the press, except that some people think he’s too honest for a politician. He can’t have an adulterous chauffeur, even one grandfathered into the position by his saintly father. Out of a home. Out of a wife. And now out of a job. Maybe I can explain.
“It’s not what you think, Senator.”
“You know what your father once said to me?” His voice is fading away. “The true test of a man is in his testicles.”
“His what?” Oh Christ, he’s not listening to me. “Listen, Senator—this is only the second time I’ve done it in fifteen years. The first time was right after we were married. It was just, you know, one of those things. This girl, she fell on me like a ton of bricks. It was only a couple of times. Margie forgave me but said if it ever happened again, that would be it. Two strikes, she said, two strikes and you’re out. That’s not how you play baseball, I told her.”
“I think I know what the problem was,” said the Senator, as if from far away.
“Then I’m in the supermarket and this woman starts talking to me about the artichokes and how she never could figure out how to eat them with the spiny stuff in the middle and I tell her how, you know, just being helpful. And she says how I’m so easy to talk to. That’s it. So I get together with her. Just once. And Margie finds her text message on my cell. Turns out Margie has had her eye on me all this time. Ever since the first little slip almost fifteen years ago. She says she knew I’d do it again and that’s it. I’m out.”
“It’s the emission standards,” whispers the Senator. I can hardly hear him. “I was instrumental in getting that legislation enacted. So there’s less carbon monoxide coming out of the exhaust pipe. It just takes a lot longer. But I did it right after all.”
“Whatever she tells the papers, she swore to me she was eighteen. I want you to know that. Will you tell them that for me?”
“Your father, Higs. He’s right here behind the wheel again, like in the good old days. He’s going to take me home.”
I stare at the phone. “Senator?” I say. But there’s no answer.
Paul Negri is the former president and publisher of Dover Publications, Inc. His work has appeared in The Vestal Review, Bartleby Snopes, Piff Magazine, The Mulberry Fork Review, and other publications. He has twice won the Gold Medal for fiction in the William Faulkner — William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.