Corruptions, A Novel of Washington

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Chapter 13

“This is BULLSHIT!

Rage is a powerful tool in Washington, but seldom wielded effectively. Rep. Dave Obey of Wisconsin was one of Congress’s rage masters, a cranky and generally unpleasant person under the best of circumstances, but a star at exploding in rage when the moment is right: at 3:00 a.m. in the middle of a Foreign Ops Approps conference, or in the middle of a mark-up when things aren’t going exactly his way. Younger, less experienced Members quake in the face of a classic Obey eruption; the more seasoned among them glance at their watches and place bets on how long he’ll go on for. In the late 1980s, he once spent over an hour in the wee hours of the morning spitting nails about an African despot who had mistakenly been lauded in the prior year’s Committee Report. It was classic Obey, somewhat remarkable for its length but otherwise a perfectly normal performance.

Raymonda, my former lover and the current minority staff director for Sen. Belkin, was once again giving me a private demonstration of her own special skills at rage in response to my story about Paris and her Senator. Curt by nature, always testy under even the best of circumstances, fiercely protective of her boss and especially outraged whenever anyone (like me this time) went around her to get the boss to agree to something, she was an explosion waiting to happen.

The trick was to understand her style, and sit through it. Ray tended to blow early, with a vicious bitterness designed to knock you right back out the door you’d come in through. She was made for the 100-yard dash, not the mile, so after a massive, volcanic explosion she’d peter out after five or ten minutes. I figured this one would go closer to her ten-minute limit, since I’d given her no warning at all about my plans for Paris, and she could only take that as a betrayal. Problem was, I couldn’t have told her ahead of time; she would have killed the deal. So here I was, paying my penance.

“Those fucking Emirates aren’t worth the sand they shit in,” she continued, an image I tried to conjure up while letting her continue to blow off steam. “There’s not a decent democracy among them, they oppress women all get out, and they aren’t fucking trustworthy when it comes to national security. We can’t just give them our best assets like this, they’re not fucking trustworthy.”

“In the time since 9/11, they’ve been incredibly helpful,” I ventured.

“I’m tired of all you assholes citing 9/11 as if it’s the answer to everything!” she cried. “Americans died on 9/11, you prick!”

As if politicians like her boss – God, especially her boss – weren’t the first people in the country running out to use 9/11 as an excuse for every crazyass spending idea they’d ever had. From the subways in Washington, D.C. to the ports in Los Angeles, from the Florida panhandle to the eastern mountains in Washington state, 9/11 was the rallying cry for spending, spending, spending. And, praise the Lord, every Senator and Member of the House was out there day after day, toiling in the fields, saving us from the evil terrorist bastards who wanted to destroy the American way of life. Of course, sometimes they were, and some programs had use, but puhhhhhh-lease, it was mostly just crap designed to push more Federal dollars back to their constituents. And much of it, as with all government spending, was simply pissed away.

As I listened, my mind wandered to the various directions she might take this conversation. My friend Ginger the dog from all those old Far Side cartoons was back: “blah blah blah Emirates, blah blah blah Arabs,” while I mentally ran through ways to escape from her ranting, reviewing each against her likely reactions. Of course, the Ginger strategy was probably one of the main reasons my relationship with Raymonda lasted as long as it did: when she finally broke it off, telling me she couldn’t take all the arguments any more, I didn’t feel like we’d argued all that much. Maybe I just hadn’t been paying very close attention. Today was no different.

Tuning back in, I heard Ray say something more about the UAE Government’s oppression of women, and I tuned right back out again. Jesus, that old shibboleth. I couldn’t for the life of me tell where she thought she’d get with that idea; the whole ‘oppress women’ thing is a purely Democratic argument that doesn’t even fly with most of them. Hearing it roll off her tongue when she worked for a Republican New York Senator born and bred amidst the horsey set out in Nassau County near Belmont Park was laughable – except for the fact that a laugh at this moment could have cost me my life, since steam was still coming out of her ears.

News Flash: Traditional Arab Societies Oppress Women! Film at 11:00! Of course they oppress women, it’s in the nature of traditional societies all around the globe. The question isn’t whether, it’s what are they doing about it and what direction are they heading in? More or less? Better conditions or worse? All this black-and-white, either-or debate that dominates Washington these days is one of the main things killing the body politic. As if any of these idiots in Congress, let alone the boobs we send to the White House, has the right answers for everything. Smartest thing the founders ever did, separation of powers: since all three arms of government have equal tendencies toward stupidity, divide their powers and the moderate middle will conquer.

Ray was still going strong, and I noticed that she was focusing now on the whole “untrustworthy Arabs” part. This was a little more sensible, the whole Afghanistan thing again that I’d talked about with her boss in Paris. “The leaders in these countries turn over like flies, and weapons we provide them today will end up in Afghanistan or Somalia before you can say Abdul Robinson.”

“Jesus, it’s MNNA status, Raymonda,” I replied. “We’re not talking about F-16s here. We’re talking about them being at the back of the line for the bits of shit that roll through the process after the Reserves, the states, the Israelis, the Egyptians, and about ten other countries that go over the cache with fine toothcombs. This is mostly just a political statement.” Sort of. That was as close as I ever wanted to come to a direct lie, but she was starting to get to me.

“Politically, they SUCK!” Ooh, I thought, I’m wrong, she’s starting to fade pretty early this time. ‘You suck’ was the weakest argument I’d hear in Washington, even if it was the best shorthand for how our two major political parties see each other. Raymonda using it here meant that she was running out of steam.

“Ray, they are not a democracy. They are not the leading promoter of human rights in the region. They are not the most critical nation to U.S. interests in the region. But they want MNNA status as a symbol of the relationship, and Sen. Belkin agrees.” That was dangerous, telling her what her boss thought. It could start her off on another explosion, depending on whether he’d told her about the Paris agreement or not.

“Fuck you.” Nice and quiet; it meant he’d told her there was no backing out of this deal. “I know what the Senator plans to push in Committee. MNNA status for the UAE, for the life of the bill.”

That meant one year, the term of all appropriations bills. It was the perfect solution, the one I’d been hoping for. This way, Ray would think she’d screwed me, but I would get what I needed: MNNA status long enough to ship the radar system they wanted. But I needed to be shocked and outraged, so she wouldn’t know I was okay with it. “Wait, Ray, Sen. Belkin didn’t say anything about having the authority for one year. That could kill the deal.”

“I have convinced him of the importance that this be a provisional authority,” she replied, steely-eyed as she glared down at me. “And it’s the only deal he’s offering.”

“Goddammit, Raymonda, that’s going to kill us with our client.”

“Like I give a shit about you and your client.” Smiling at me briefly, she looked down at her desk and grasped a random memo. Starting to read without looking back at me, she continued, “Are we done?”

“I’m going to have to take this back,” I began.

“We’re done,” she said. “And that’s the deal. Goodbye.”

* * *

From behind his desk, his body turned sideways, Weller played with his pen, twirling it between his fingers, a nervous habit. “Can we fix it in conference?”

“Fix it? Weller, they wanted one system. They can probably get it shipped thirty days after the bill’s signed into law. There’s nothing to fix.”

He sighed, and glanced out the window. “Yes, but the Minister has decided he likes the idea of being a Major Non-NATO Ally.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty, Weller, don’t fuck this up for me; I used Harry for this, and he’s never put himself on the line for me like this.” It was true; more importantly, I couldn’t go back to him to ask him to redo the deal. I swear, it wasn’t always just the clients who were clueless. “You tell him that this year we can only get one year’s authority. Next year, we’ll make it permanent.”

“Hmm.” He was still looking out the window. Turning his head, he said, “I guess that means they’ll need us next year, won’t they?”

“There you go.”

Turning to walk out of his office, I stopped, looking back for a moment. “Didn’t you say Fawzi was being rotated out of Washington at the end of the year, and wasn’t happy about it?”

“Yeeeees,” Weller drawled as recognition began to dawn.

“Well, he just got his ticket to stay two more years – we can’t do it without his intel contacts.”

Weller was up from his desk at a speed that belied his 73 years. “I think I’ll take a ride over to the military mission office. You haven’t told anyone, have you?”

* * *

As Weller pushed by me, I headed down the hall in the other direction, toward Michelle’s office. I needed to make sure she was the next one to hear the news, or there would be hell to pay. There was gonna be hell to pay anyway, but I was getting used to that. Somehow Michelle was starting to remind me of Raymonda.

“We’re all set on the MNNA amendment,” I said from the doorway, one hand on each lintel, leaning a little so as to appear relaxed.

What?” she responded. She was sitting at her desk, her hands now frozen in place above her keyboard. In the dim light, I thought I could see the blood rising in her face. “How? I thought we still had to talk to Belkin’s staff director, Roberta or whatever.”

“I stopped by earlier this afternoon, and she agreed to it.”

“Goddammit, why wasn’t I there?” She stood, placing her hands on her hips and staring at me. “The UAE is my client, dammit. I thought after your Paris junket that you were going to stop going it alone on this.”

“Hey, gimme a break, it’s not like it was a fun fucking meeting.” God, she’d set me off again. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but it was getting to the point where every time I talked to her I got pissed. “Raymonda” – emphasizing it a little more than needed to remind her of the name – “ripped me a new asshole, thank you very much, so you didn’t miss anything.”

She wasn’t buying it. “I missed participating in the deal you made.” Well, okay, she had a point there. “And I missed a chance to learn something about how you operate.” Okay, well, when she put it like that, it made some sense.

Looking down at her desk, she continued. “So the deal is what exactly?”

“MNNA status for the length of the bill – one year.”

“One year! The Senator agreed to the provision as written! I could have done better than one year. Jesus, I can’t believe you bit on that.” She stormed out from behind her desk, coming straight at me. “I need to talk to Welly so he and I can fix this.”

Now I remembered why I didn’t take her with me. She was an arguer, not just with me but with everyone, and she had no sense of the subtleties of Washington. The main reason I always asked for more than needed was so that I could give a little and still come away a winner. Members and staffers hated to say ‘no’ to any request, and if I could make them feel like by giving me what I wanted they still had to say ‘no’ to me – or in Raymonda’s case, got to say ‘no’ – that only ensured that they’d fight all the harder for the compromise. This approach was especially important since I was always on the outside looking in, with clients who weren’t voters but rather foreign governments looking for some form of handout.

“He’s not here. He went to tell Fawzi.”

She stopped right in front of me. “So you told him first?”

“He’s between here and the elevator.” Boy, that was lame; I knew even as it was coming out of my mouth.

“And he just ran off to the client?”

“He always talks to Fawzi alone. You know that, it’s an intel thing.” At least that was true; I seldom saw Fawzi except at Embassy receptions and the like, or when Weller was out of town and something needed to be brought by his office. Weller loved talking to him alone, and for all I knew they used the Cone of Silence to make sure the NSA wasn’t listening in.

“I will talk to him tomorrow about meeting with the Ambassador to inform the government, as opposed to the Defense Ministry.” Helloo-oo, I thought, in most of these tiny countries, the Defense Ministry is the government, but decided discretion was definitely the better part of valor on that one. “And I’ll talk to him about fixing this so it’s the amendment we’re supposed to get.”

“Michelle.” There were so many things wrong with that sentence, the worst of them being the assumption that we were supposed to get anything. We’re lobbyists, I thought, and a small-potatoes firm at that; we only get what we beg for, and all of it can be taken away at any moment. “We’ll take what we got, and live with it. That’s my job, deciding what’s gettable for all the clients, and this is the best we’ll get.”

“Jesus, you act like I don’t know anything.”

“It’s not that.” It probably is, though, I thought; the biggest button of mine she keeps pushing is this idea that she knows the system and there’s nothing I can teach her. “This is one of the things you have to learn: it sometimes works out this way. Michael talks to certain Members alone; I talk to certain staff alone. It’s the only way to do it – most of them don’t like to cut deals with witnesses present.”

“She didn’t cut you a deal, she screwed you.”

Well, yeah, but that was the plan… Oh, that was too much to explain.

“I need to finish this memo before the mark-up,” she said, turning back to her computer and beginning to type. At least she didn’t just tell me to fuck off, I thought to myself, or walk across the room and slug me, so I guess I’m coming out of it okay.

As I walked out, I wondered if there was any way to rescue a professional working relationship with her, and whether it was worth the trouble.

* * *

Three days later, I stood nervously in the outer lobby of Sen. Jacob Colbert, the junior Senator from New Jersey and another of those East Coast Republicans with a decent environmental record. Colbert’s offices lie on the first floor of the Hart Senate Office Building, a soulless, modernist building whose only saving grace is the massive Calder sculpture in the six-story lobby. The large office lobby space, with its two receptionists and their constantly ringing phones, its television tuned continually to Senate Floor proceedings, and its standard issue office furniture, mocked the smaller, squatter offices of the Russell and Dirksen Buildings – the older ones, the ones with character – in a way that belied the larger size that gave Hart offices their limited appeal.

I was here to save my African coastal fisheries amendment and Jacob Colbert seemed as good a prospect as I was going to find. A former State Senator in New Jersey, Jacob Colbert had built a career around protecting the New Jersey shore, and leveraged that into a U.S. Senate win in 2000 and reelection in 2006. He didn’t have much of a foreign policy focus, other than the obligatory participation in Iraq, Iranian nukes, and Middle East peace debates that everyone had to be part of. But if Peter was right, his defense and foreign policy staffer, a young woman by the name of Erin Monaghan, was eager to get her boss more focused on international environmental issues, especially around the foreign aid bill.

“Mr. Matthews?” a small voice said from behind me.

I turned, and the words ‘young’ and ‘not a player’ came immediately to mind. In D.C., you learned to trust intuitive responses, because they represented your animal instincts rearing their ugly – but by and large useful – heads. I couldn’t have told you how many times I’d been walking the halls in a Senate or House office building, going about my business, and suddenly felt ‘danger’ bells ringing in my head, only to turn and see the one person in Congress I didn’t want to run into that day coming down the hall toward me. Sometimes, it was even in time to get away, but regardless it was a sense that seldom let me down.

By young, I mean she was really young, both physically and, from the deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes, professionally as well. And by ‘not a player,’ well, she was pretty enough and dressed quite professionally, but that wasn’t what the criteria that made a player. There was a look, not so much one’s clothes or appearance, but attitude, carriage, in the way somebody walked, in their ability to meet your gaze without looking away, in the level of comfort in the way they exhibited, just in the way they stood. It was all a mix of factors, indefinable and subconscious, that created snap judgments a real Washingtonian trusted implicitly. And this girl, well, she wasn’t a player. No, sirroonie.

“Hi, Erin, Ed Matthews. Peter Chase sent me, told me that I should speak with you.” I gave her my trust-me face, the one vacuum-cleaner salesmen used to use as they tried to inveigle their way through someone’s front door.

“Peter sent you?” A light glow came to her cheeks, accompanied by a shy smile. Goddammit, I thought, if that sonofabitch is using me to get in this girl’s pants, I will absolutely kill him.

“Yes, he spoke very highly of you,” I replied. The blush deepened. Shit. I continued anyway; I had no choice. “We have an important amendment we’re working on, and he thought you’d be interested. It involves biodiversity in Africa.”

“Biodiversity is an area where the Senator has a strong interest.”

“Well, I think you’re being a little modest,” I replied. I looked over to the receptionist with a smile, to draw her into the conversation, create that undercurrent of a ‘we’ in my words. “The Senator’s record on environmental and sustainability issues is pretty stellar, and predates his time here in Washington.”

Erin took the bait. Looking down, she said, “Have you worked with our office before?”

Well, that question showed some smarts; it’s a way of saying, ‘is there somewhere I can validate your credibility?’ “No, I haven’t had the opportunity. But Peter felt that this amendment is one the Senator would want to support. Do you have a few minutes now, or should I come back?”

“Why don’t we sit here for a second?” The tentative yes: I won’t throw you out, but then again I’m not letting you in either.

“Thanks.” I took the end of the couch facing away from the door, so I wouldn’t be distracted by it opening and closing as constituents and tourists floated in and out. She sat at the far end, again indicating her uncertainty. She wasn’t sure about me yet.

My mind raced. I had prepped Peter for a phone call from her, pitching the amendment to him in the way I knew he’d want to hear it: protecting what remains of the badly depleted fisheries off the coasts of Africa, through the development of greater indigenous capacity to monitor and protect the stocks. But I knew Peter ahead of time, so I knew that he would respond equally well to the two parts of that argument: one, that we have to do what we could to protect them, and two, that the locals had to be trained to be able to protect the fisheries over the long term, ‘capacity-building’ in Washington-speak. This kid I didn’t know from Adam, so I wasn’t sure what argument was going to work.

Worse, now that I knew Peter was trying to get her into the sack, I couldn’t be sure what Peter would be talking about when he had her on the phone.

I decided to lead with coastal protection – the Senator’s biggest achievements had been in fighting oil and gas drilling off the coast of New Jersey, so maybe I could spin out from that.

“I appreciate the time, and I’ll try to make this quick.” She smiled and nodded. A standard opening, pawn to Queen’s 4 so to speak, but well received. “As you know, coastal protection is a global problem, whether it’s protecting the New Jersey coast from oil platforms and their inevitable oil spills, or protecting Florida’s southern coast from drug runners, or protecting the fisheries stocks off the coasts of Europe and Africa from being completely depleted by massive overfishing from South Korea, Russia, France, Spain and other industrialized countries.”

She was scribbling on her note pad – ‘S Korea Russia France Spain.’ I let her finish, and went on.

“We’re hoping to bring some resources to bear in one of those cases – Africa – to help African nations defend their own waters. We’re looking to direct $15 million from the Administration’s military aid budget to support biodiversity programs in Africa by building Africa’s own coast guards and navies, so they can better protect those fisheries from, well, predators, there’s nothing else to call them, predators.”

‘$15 million,’ she scribbled.

“We’re not adding money to the budget” – Colbert was also something of a budget hawk – “we’re just directing the funds to be spent in Africa on biodiversity.”

“Fifteen million seems to be a lot.”

Fifteen million dollars in Washington is sort of like spitting into the Atlantic, I thought. Just another sign of how junior she was.

“Well, you have to remember that the military aid budget is well over $4 billion total, so this is a pretty small percentage of that.” True, as far as it went – with Israel getting $2 billion-plus a year, and Egypt getting $1 billion-plus, I was talking about a much smaller ‘rest of the world’ budget that this money would be taken from. And $15 million in military aid for Africa was actually a lot more than normal, since after Israel and Egypt there was a whole list of countries that got some serious cash, starting with Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, leaving scraps for the rest of the world. But I didn’t expect her to pick up on that, and she didn’t. That gave me another important clue about her: she’s his foreign aid staffer, but doesn’t know the foreign aid budget. Not uncommon, actually, among Congressional staffers, just another factor to keep in mind.

“Has anything like this ever been done?”

“Congress has a long history of making such recommendations in legislation,” I replied. When they made it in legislation, of course, it was no longer a recommendation, it was a mandate. And the administration, all administrations, hated earmarks like this with a passion. But she hadn’t asked me that.

“So what are you looking for the Senator to do?” Another good sign, focusing early on what I wanted out of her, not just my story. Problem was, I’d come here asking for her to try to squeeze it into the bill before the Committee considered it the next week; talking with her, I knew she’d never be ready to move that quickly. I made a snap decision.

“We’d like the Senator to consider offering it as a friendly amendment when the bill is on the Senate Floor.”

She looked confused, and seriously taken aback. “But if Peter supports the amendment, I don’t …”

“Here’s Peter’s problem.” I slid along the couch toward her a little, and lowered my voice, like it was a secret. “His appropriations guy forgot to request the amendment in the bill, and now it’s too late for Committee members to seek additional amendments.” Peter had agreed to confirm this; the latter part at least was true, but more importantly this approach gave him a rare opportunity to get a dig in at Roger. The two of them had a very unhealthy competition going on, both very active on foreign aid bills and highly effective despite not being on the Subcommittee staff. Roger was far better at the details and the process, but Peter always better positioned, working in offices like his current one, the Senate Majority Leader.

I reminded myself to tell Roger what the deal was; if he found out from Peter, it would be another black mark in their unending struggle, and that one would be my fault.

“I know it sounds crazy, given who he works for, but it’s true. He’s totally stuck, and you’re the only person he could think of who can help us all out.”

Looking me in the eye, she sat perfectly still for a few moments, waiting for me to give it away, maybe waiting for me to roll my eyes and say, ‘just kidding, it’s all bullshit,’ or maybe just for me to break out into an uncontrolled sweat. Thing is, after a few hundred of these kinds of meetings, you can do them in your sleep, and pretty much without any shame.

“Do you have any background material I can read?”

Gotcha. “Not with me right now. I just happened to be talking about this with Peter, and when he said you were the person I needed to see” – here she blushed again, and I knew I had her – “I came straight over. I could pull something together and bring it by tomorrow.” I tried to remember all the materials I’d Googled while planning out this amendment, the stuff I never needed with Roger because he bought the amendment straight out, and figured that, with a little work, I could have a decent package together by morning. If I hustled.

“I’ll review it all and get back to you. And we’ll definitely consider it.” She glanced down at her notes for a moment. “It’s definitely an area of importance for the Senator.”

I stood, recognizing the end of the meeting. “Thanks. I appreciate it; and I really appreciate your coming out with no advance warning to talk to me.” As she got up from the couch, straightening her skirt, I reached out to shake her hand. “I’ll tell Peter, and I’ll drop those materials by tomorrow.”

As I turned to leave, she said, “Oh, I forgot. What will the Administration say?”

I turned back, surprised, and looked intently at her face. That was either the question of a real pro, hoping to catch me off-guard, or just what she said it was, something she forgot. From her face, I couldn’t tell.

“They’ll oppose it. They oppose any Congressional limitation on how they spend their military aid.” That was certainly true, and it wasn’t just the current crop in the White House and the halls of the Pentagon; it was every Administration since the dawn of time. “That’s one of the reasons that the fisheries off Africa have been so devastated; even in the ’80s and ’90s the Defense Department knew Congress was concerned about this, and they’ve ignored it. So they’ll oppose it, but probably not too vigorously – they worry much more about people who try to take away their money than people who tell them how to spend it.”

She smiled at that. “Okay, that makes sense. Thanks again for coming.” As she turned back to her office, I thought to myself, I still can’t tell if she held that question; I’ll have to keep an eye on her.

Glancing at the receptionist, I said, “Thanks,” before turning to the door and heading out.

* * *

“Senator,” Tom tried again, “this is an important country, one that’s vital to America’s interests in that part of the world.”

Good God, I thought, he may be my senior colleague, but I may just have to take a baseball bat to the man anyway. He was just so clueless.

It was Monday of the following week, two days before the Senate mark-up, and here I was babysitting Tom as he tried to sell Koliba to Sen. Cory VanderMeer, third-ranking member on the Republican side of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, and another of Tom’s wingnut right-wingers. VanderMeer was one of those who got into Foreign Ops because of the opportunity to push Jesus around the globe, a Mississippi Senator with a deep Christian bent and a former missionary to boot. He was typical of the kind of far-right Republicans who were Tom’s bread-and-butter. But even he, we were finding, was smarter than to side with Koliba.

“Tom, my friend, that dog just won’t hunt,” he said, dragging out the tiredest Southernism there was in Washington, but one that somehow still worked. “I can’t put myself on the line for a despot.”

“But sir, the President is a good friend…”

“Tom, Tom,” VanderMeer interjected, raising his hand to wave off Tom’s efforts, “I’m serious. I can’t help you on this one.”

Tom looked crestfallen, like that kid in the old movie who got bunny pajamas instead of a bb rifle. I was struggling to keep a straight face, what with how incredibly stupid it was of us to come in here and try this.

“Is there something else I can help you out with?” You had to love Senators; like I said, they just hated saying no.

I counted to five before saying anything, but when Tom just sat there, decided to jump in.

“Well, Senator, there is one other client.” Tom looked at me in surprise, but didn’t stop me. “As you may know, we represent the Dungan-American Friendship Society, which promotes closer ties between the U.S. and the Dungan people of Kazakhstan. You may know that, while Kazakhstan is an important ally in the war on terror” – I always had to throw that in with Republicans – “the government has been less than supportive of some basic human rights, including freedom of religion.”

As I continued with the spiel, I found myself a little surprised at how easy it was for me to play this one, something I’d thought earlier in the year was like dancing with the devil. It was where the client found most resonance, and it would only help to have yet another Republican chiming in on our Dungan report language.

VanderMeer listened for another couple of minutes without interrupting and, when I was finished, said, “Now this is something I can get behind.” Ka-ching! “I want you to work with Allison here” – the staffer in the meeting, his Deputy Chief of Staff instead of his foreign policy person, probably more an indication of how he viewed Tom than of how he thought of the bill in question – “on an amendment that we can push in Committee.”

Whoops. I wasn’t looking for an amendment, just some support for my report language. I smiled over at Allison and nodded, all the while thinking how I might talk her back from an amendment.

VanderMeer scooched forward in his chair, and pointed at me. “This entire region of Central Asia, the ‘Stans’ people call them, it’s an area that has never heard the word of God. It’s time they do, and I’m happy to help make that happen.”

Oy, I thought. I could feel my face kind of freeze up, while an image of Bao’s smiling visage rose slowly in my mind’s eye. Be careful what you wish for, I told myself. It might just come true.

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