The following is only lightly edited and may contain spelling and grammar errors, as well as very mild spoilers for Books 1 and 2.
New York, 1998
“Jim Gardner, where’ve you been all night? And my god! Is that Arthur Longdale I see you talking to? Who let that irresponsible ass in here?” Congressman Boyle lumbers toward Artie and me, followed by Molly who’s teetering a little as she walks, a wine glass dangling from her hand. “Jim, your wife here is an inspiration. Where’ve you been hiding her all these years?”—I open my mouth to say that I haven’t been hiding my wife at all, that Molly Gardner has been enjoying an accomplished career of her own as an editor at Renaissance Magazine, and that it’s a little bit difficult to go anywhere with my wife when I’ve spent the last six months locked up in a one-room apartment in Saudi Arabia, held hostage by Jaysh al-Saalihin, but he barrels on without giving me the chance—“And how the hell do you know Artie Longdale?”
“Good evening, Congressman,” Longdale replies, an amused smile on his mouth. “Jim Gardner and I go way back, long before he was a war correspondent with the New York Journal. We met in California ages ago. College, actually.”
“Is that so?” The Congressman asks.
“Honey,” Molly says, cutting in. “Speaking of California! Remember that road trip we took into the mountains? It was the first time we met!”
“What road trip?” I ask, feeling thrown. Molly and I didn’t meet on a road trip in California. We met five years ago in Brooklyn. What the hell is she talking about?
“You’re going to love this story,” Molly says, turning back to the Congressman. “This is Jim like you’ve never seen him. But hold on, I need another drink first.” She finishes her wine glass and then chases after a sever, calling for another drink.
“Your wife is quite the catch,” Congressman Boyle says, with a glint in his eye that I don’t appreciate. I glance at Longdale and he gives me a knowing smile. Across the lawn, I see Mayor Schueller approaching with a wide grin. I slip out of Congressman Boyle’s grip and turn to the Mayor.
“I’ll be right back, gentleman,” I say.
“Jim,” Mayor Schueller says. “I’m so pleased you agreed to this. I know it’s not easy to dredge up the past, after what he’s been through, but it means a lot to Congressman Boyle, and to myself. We’re all in this together, am I right?”
I had been adamant about turning down public appearances after my rescue, but she had finally convinced me when this offer came up. Right now, she seems completely unaware of the conversation.
I put on a plastic smile. “Ya know, I admit I was a little unsure at first, but Molls has a way of getting me to see what’s really important.”
“Wives certainly have a knack for that, don’t they?” Mayor Schueller responds. He leans in, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Just so you know, I am fully aware that I owe you one. Now that you’ve done this favor for me, I would like to do one for you.”
“What kind of favor?” I ask.
Mayor Schueller leans in even closer. “Between you and me, the 2000 Presidential elections are going to be a wide-open race, and I’m putting my name in the hat. So what do you think? I’m going to need a speechwriter.”
“So, you want me for my writing?”
“You’re a damn good journalist.”
“It’s not just because of my recent rescue from being a prisoner of Jaysh al-Saalihin during a time when the Algerian Wars are a distant memory and both Democrats and Republicans are looking for reasons to increase military spending? Mr. Mayor, please. I’m not an idiot.”
Schueller laughs nervously. “See, that’s why I need a man like you. To keep me on my toes.”
I shoot him back a deprecating smile. “I don’t think you’d appreciate it in the long run.”
“Come on, Jim.” He spreads his arms wide. “This is a chance to be a part of something big.”
I shake my head. “Al Gore may not have been a particularly beloved President, and people are sick and tired of hearing about global warming for the last eight years, but the last time a Democratic President was succeeded by a member of their own party was James Buchanan. It’s a long shot Mr. Mayor, and I’m not really a gambling man.”
Congressman Boyle’s loud voice cuts again through my chatter. “—Jim, I had no idea you met your wife in college!”
I turn back to Congressman Boyle. What does he mean, we met in College? I want to correct him, but I can’t because Molly is barreling along with a story that, I realize, she’s been telling for the last minute.
“—one night we go on this spontaneous road trip to a cabin up in the mountain—me and Jim and a whole bunch of his friends—and we left at three in the morning for some god-awful reason, and James is nodding behind the wheel of the van—he drove a VW bus if you can believe that—and the rest of us have lit up, because, you know, it was the seventies, when suddenly there are sirens behind us going WEEEE OOOO! WEEEE OOOO! and everyone is screaming and James is losing control and shouting ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ so when the cop comes up to us I do the only thing I can think of and I start yelling, ‘a man! there’s a man running down the road on and he just tried to steal our car and he was wearing handcuffs!’ and, I swear to god this is true, but that cop went running down the road so fast we didn’t even have time to put out our joints!”
Congressman Boyle’s polite chuckle turns into a roaring laughter and soon the others have joined in.
“Helluva story!” The mayor says, grabbing a champagne bottle from a nearby server. “We have to hear more. But first, a toast to Congressman Boyle, our next New York Senator!”
I stare at my wife as the Mayor begins tugging on the cork, trying desperately to claw back to the present moment. What the hell is she saying? We met five years ago in the vegetable aisle of a grocery store in Brooklyn. I look for Longdale to back me up on this, but he’s moved on to a different conversation. I turn to Molly. “Honey, that’s not how we met.”
She smiles at me, but there’s a shift in her demeanor, like a crack in her armor. It’s there a moment and then gone. “Of course it is. What are you talking about?”
“Just one more moment,” The Mayor says, still tugging on the cork, “And we”—tug—”will start”—tug—sorry, I can’t seem to get this!”
I snatch the bottle out of the Mayor’s hand. “Let me help you with that.”
One good yank and the cork comes loose, jettisons from the bottle, and strikes its target, Congressman Boyle, directly in the center of his forehead. The huge man stumbles backward, entangling himself with the attending caterer who lets his tray of hors-d’oeuvres go flying. There’s a scream and a splash and then Congressman Boyle is floating in the koi pond, his heels sticking up like two, desperate sign-posts.
The Mayor quickly retreats, leaving me standing with the bottle in my hand and champagne dribbling down my shirt.
“Jim,” someone asks.
I turn to see Longdale staring at me with a concerned expression on his face.
“What?” I say.
Longdale steps close to me. “I remember that road trip as well you as you, and that was fifteen years before you and Molly actually met. So why the hell would she say that she was there?”
“Ask her yourself,” I mutter, turning to look for my wife.
But she’s gone.