I started writing this story while living the Northeast DC in 2014. The first draft of this story was published on October 6, 2015. The second draft (updating and modifying Part One) was published on January 13, 2018. This story is a tribute to my time living in the Capitol of the United States. The places featured are based on actual places and you can check out those spots via picture if you visit capitolintent DOT tumblr DOT com.
I took a hiatus from this work after I moved 5 times across state lines to three different cities, started a business, got a dog (and hiking buddy), got engaged, and honestly just got depressed after the 2017 elections. This story is not going to be about politics. It's going to be about people. Yes, Erik is a Democrat, but that's because Underwood is a Democrat in House Of Cards. Think of this story as Phantom Of The Opera, but in modern times and Erik found the most power in being a politician than an Opera Ghost. It's a new era. More and more people are being accepted by the masses. Why not Erik?
Lastly, I do not own any of the characters from the musical/novel/etc nor do I claim any ownership of the places mentioned in this story. If you like my writing I hope you will leave me a review with your thoughts.
His stance was rigid as stared out of the window of his office. There was not much to see before him. This would remain his office after all. There would be no moving up in the scheme of things, only sideways. This view, where he overlooked a parking lot that tourists got lost in when getting off the Capitol South Metro Station, would be the rein he would experience for another four years and possibly longer.
"Dammit," The grip on his emergency bourbon tightened making the ice clash into all sides, "Goddammit."
The shrill double beep of his office phone went off and nearly made him break the glass into shards. He was certain he told his secretary to hold all calls for at least another hour. He needed time to think. Reluctantly, he picked up the phone and spit, "What?" into the receiver.
The low alto voice of his seasoned employee answered, "I'm apologies sir, the President-Elect is on the other line."
"Of course he is." He seethed through his teeth.
"Would you like me to put him through?"
His pause was so long that he heard his secretary take a sharp inhale.
"No," he finally said.
"But," She stumbled a little, "It's the-"
An audible sigh came from him. This was not worth getting into a discussion with her about again, "Yes, yes, I know. Put him through."
There was a click on the line and he knew the call had been switched, "Good afternoon Mr President-Elect."
"Hey there Erik," came a clear well-known voice on the other line, "I just wanted to call and check-in with you myself."
The ice in his bourbon shook and trembled against the glass. Shrill tink-tink-tinks in his hand could be heard close by. A car alarm went off not far away. Someone shouted profanities from the sidewalk.
"Come on Erik, it's just as Carla explained to you. We need you as whip right now. The House is almost divided in half and the Senate… I feel I don't need to explain any of this to you. The system is a mess. We need someone as strong as you to whip those votes to where we need them. I wanted you to play a key part in this education bill. Will you help us? I understand you didn't want to answer this afternoon, so I wanted to talk to you myself. You know this isn't just me, it's the entire party here, the entire House really."
Throughout this exchange, which was seeming far more like a planned speech than anything close to a phone discussion, Erik Underwood continued to watch the scene outside his window. A homeless man appeared to be chanting something to himself. A Korean family of four was scurrying away from him while still managing to take a few pictures of the Library of Congress as they approached it. Two men in suits talked with coffee in their hands. Security guards raised and lowered parking gates for large black SUVs. Nothing of interest out there. Nothing new.
"Erik? You still there?"
"Of course, Richard, ah, my apologies, Mr President. It's an old habit to break." In reality, that was an intentional move. He had played a key part in Richard Walker's presidential campaign with the understood exchange of becoming Secretary of State.
"I haven't been sworn in yet…Look, I know what I said. And you would have made an excellent Secretary of State, absolutely excellent, but when I look at who is the strongest where and what will be the most useful for everyone. Erik, you'll stay on as Whip, won't you? We need you, we absolutely need you here."
It was tempting to growl through his gritted teeth. It would have been so easy, really. The outright lie and betrayal that he had gone through in such a short amount of time for all of the sleepless nights he had spent for this man and for this blow, Richard couldn't even deliver it himself. In the back of his mind, he always knew that Richard was intimidated by him, but to pull something like this was beyond what he had imagined.
While this was a fallback, it was not a fallout. Underwood was sure that with the introduction of the education bill that he would find himself well wound with the power again. Just a little more scratching of backs, just a little more whips in a direction that would benefit him. Sure, he would have to fool that all of it was out of the selfless benefit of the party, but no, he would figure out just how to make things change in his favor and Richard Walker would be just the one to plummet from this stab in the back.
The homeless man was attempting to pee on the four-foot wall that surrounded the parking lot. Two security guards were now rushing his way, yelling with their batons in the air. The homeless man ran away, a trail of filth following his sagging pants and old tennis shoes. Erik's eyes narrowed and he took a deep breath to calm himself before answering, "You can count on me, Mr President. I'd be happy to serve my country and party as your whip."
The voice that greeted him was a little less burdened, but still uneasy, "Thank you, Erik. And it's not Mr President yet."
"Yet." Erik allowed himself a pause to take a drink of the bourbon before it watered down too much. When Richard did not continue, he asked, "Anything else you need from me?"
"Not immediately." A sigh of relief was heard in Erik's ear, "Thank you, Erik."
"Have a good evening."
"You do the same."
Erik's eyes never left the window as he lowered the phone to hang up. The homeless man was gone. The security team was back at their posts. Everything was back to normal. The sun was just behind the government buildings and people were beginning to hug their jackets a little closer to their chests. There would be a new president soon, a new cabinet, a new city and Erik was not simply going to stand by this window and let it form unless he had a direct hand in it all.
Throwing the last of the bourbon into his throat, he set the glass down with a sharp thud as it hit the wood. No, it did not break. Erik would not let any part around him break unless it was intentional to his cause. Despite every hardship in his life, beyond half of his face being beyond repair and his family-life nonexistent, there was power within his reach, true unorthodox power, and he would have it. He would have it all.
Christine pushed her reading glasses back up her nose once she realized her head was drooping again. It had been another long day at the office. There had been a new wave of interns that had to be trained to answer phone calls and emails as the last interns had to be fired. She wondered how these kids were being found. Was it really a temp agency from Philadelphia? Or was it Pittsburg? Or worse…was it Washington D.C. Craigslist? She needed to talk with who had been doing the hiring. It certainly had not been her. The havoc she had to go through in the past week alone just to sort through all of the mistakes that had been made was outrageous and she had grown accustomed to a large workload working for Raoul Peters.
It wasn't simply the workload now, it was the relationship. Every day she kept looking over her shoulder to see if anyone in the office could guess that something beyond the professional was going on between her and her House of Representative employer. There seemed to be no ruckus…at least yet. Besides, the office well knew how important she was to the progress and smoothly run climate that was being created. She never guessed to have been in this circumstance, but there it was.
There was a tap on the door making her look up tiredly. Biting back a yawn she called, "Come in,"
Raoul slipped through the door, hastily closing it behind him, "Hello gorgeous," he said crossing the distance to her desk and placing a coffee on her desk.
She made a double take to the door to be sure it was completely closed, "Don't worry, I shut it," he added.
"We still need to be cautious." She replied taking the coffee, "What is this?"
"It's a double shot dirty pumpkin pie chai from Ebenezer's. Just how you like it. Though it looks like they're training over there too, so I hope it's just as good as usual."
Christine made a hasty grab for the cup, looking especially forward to the extra shot of espresso "You went all the way there? This is perfect!"
"Well," he leaned his weight on her desk, "one of the interns did. They're still learning the town so I paid their taxi bill. They seemed more useful outside the office than in it."
The sweet aroma went straight from her nose and warmed her entire being just a little bit and the taste of the spices on her tongue made her want to curl up in her chair right there and go to sleep.
"This week has been an absolute mess, Raoul. Can we vacation yet?"
Raoul sighed and seemed to be suddenly far away, "Vacation where?"
"An island where no one else is."
Still looking away from her he answered stiffly, "I'll look into it in a few weeks. It would be better for you to stay on at least a year before we start vacationing together."
Christine sighed and looked down at her drink, pushing away from being the closet girlfriend forever feeling a little bit farther into the back of her mind, "You're right, you're right."
He turned to her and said casually, "You know Walker announced his cabinet today?"
"Oh right," another glorious sip that made many things better already, "Any surprises?"
Raoul's eyebrow cocked upwards, "Erik Underwood wasn't in it."
The cup lowered from her lips only slightly before following through with another sip, "Really?"
"They're keeping him as Whip."
"Wow…God, I would never want to cross that man. And to think he's been supporting the President-Elect for so long…" Christine shook her head and quickly followed with, "Do you know how Underwood took it?"
"The word was that he took it as professional as always, but I heard that when Walker left his office after the phone call he was sweating bullets. Either way, you know how Underwood is with making a good" Raoul put a hand over half his face "face for himself."
Christine scowled a little. Such boyish selfish remarks easily got on her nerves, "Come on Raoul, you know it's mean."
"I'm just joking." Raoul said with a push off of Christine's desk to stand, "I mean, goddamn, what that man has done for himself is incredible. Using that as a strength in his campaign, all that talk about, what was is? 'The disability is not in my face, but this nation' stuff. Pretty ingenious, huh?"
"I've read…did you forget I'm twenty-five? I wasn't so interested in politics when I was living in New York." Christine thought of her brief on-and-off residence in the state that Erik represented. Another thought came to her. It was discolored and painfully sad. She winced, took a fast sip of her chai, and continued the conversation, "No one has seriously run against Underwood in how long?"
"Years. I wish I didn't have to worry about campaigns! What hell. They don't call him the Phantom of Washington for nothing. How else could he manage to whip so many votes? Though…he still has his flaws. I, being one of the youngest senators around, doesn't hurt. I can't believe I'm only thirty-two. And I still have my hair." On cue, he ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair and smiled at the feel.
Christine smiled and rolled her eyes a little. He always brought that up when he was feeling intimidated of things, but he had to have known he must have been the most attractive man in Congress. Those aspects really helped him out on television and other marketing ploys. He had been the underdog of his race, young, excited, and with a publicly spotless track record thank to his older brother who could regularly take measures to clear it. A small frown formed in her eyes at the thought, If only they knew. Some things even his pretty face couldn't get him out of.
"Hey, two more hours of work and I'll pick you up from your place at eight. How's that sound? We'll order Chinese."
"I'm sorry Raoul, I can't tonight. I'm staying in with Meg's dog while she's in Ottawa, remember?"
His hand inched across the desk to hers and touched it lightly, "I could come over there too you know."
She laughed at the thought. Raoul didn't even know what the U Street neighborhood really was beyond the clubs, let alone the studios one could find in the nooks and crannies of old buildings. And Meg was surviving alone in the city. Her place would be no good for him. Not to mention she didn't want to have to deal with Meg if she ever found out.
"You know how Meg is," she smiled slyly with her eyes, "It's amazing enough that she can keep this secret while working at the Harold. Let's not push it."
He sighed, "Fine, fine you're right. Here," he pushed himself off the desk reluctantly, "I'll get out of here and let you keep herding the mistakes out of the email chains." As he was closing in on the door, before opening it he winked charmingly and mouthed, "I love you."
Christine smiled and rolled her eyes again after blowing him a kiss. This was getting harder to hide. At least no one had looked up their back story. If they had, it was all too obvious that they had shared relations before, no matter how platonic they once were. Meg was a savior every day she kept her mouth closed.
Erik sat with his Chief of Staff, Douglas Nadir, in a relatively quiet booth in the back of Capitol Grill. A perfect steak sat before him, a glass of rare red wine lay lightly in his hand. Nadir's gaze was out on the people before him, checking to see any interesting changes in body languages from the wealthy, politically powerful, and CEO's that were just beyond them. On occasion, he had to keep others from speaking with Erik when at the cramped space, as many of them usually had issues to discuss. Security sat just outside as usual.
Today, no one moved to their table. Today, no one wanted to catch Erik in anything close to a foul mood. Even the waitstaff, who otherwise were the top-of-the-line in manners and perfection seemed to keep a distance unless otherwise needed.
"How is your sister, Doug?"
His eyebrow rose before answering, "Fine. Second marriage now. She's in Turkey visiting the family again." He took a sip of his wine, "She'll figure out eventually that they don't like her as much as she thinks they do. I don't mind that our mother was a white Catholic, but damn do they. I prefer Washington where seeing a Middle Eastern man in Western clothes is a boring normality."
Erik laughed a little, "How old is she again?"
"Twenty-nine. It's hard believing she's my sister sometimes. God, when did I get this old?"
"You're no older than me," Erik added a little wistfully.
"You still have all your hair."
"I'd rather have my face."
Nadir stole a glance at Underwood's thin form-fitting white mask. Before his election into Congress he wore one that was closer to his pale skin tone. It was still a mask, but it wasn't as obvious then. Now, the white mask had become so much of his being that if he stepped out without it, people wouldn't believe it was him. It was a rarity when Erik mentioned his face at all, let alone bitterly. Since the campaigns were over, he was content to try and believe people didn't look at it in distraction. Still, on days that had hard blows, Nadir knew that it was only a matter of time before he went into a self-deprecating mode.
The rest of their dinner was kept to lighter subjects. Nothing of value would be whispered in a place like Capitol Grill. The only reason they were there in the first place was to put on a good face (Erik had cackled with Douglas had used that particular term). The steak and the wine were finished and security took them back to Erik's car where they could now talk in peace. After buckling up and sealing the window between them and the driver, Erik let his head fall to the seat behind him with a heavy sigh.
Erik continued after he had finished his bourbon, "Glad that piss-of-an-election is over."
"You know it helped," Nadir added, his hands crossed in his lap.
"I know… Well," Underwood cleared his throat, "It's time to move on then, isn't it?"
"You have a plan." It wasn't a question. If he knew anything about his employer, he always had a plan.
"We need to climb higher, and faster to keep up," Erik said softly to the ceiling, "We need a political war and we'll need pawns to fight for me."
Nadir's eyebrows went up sceptically, "And what would be the outcome of this war if you win?"
Erik smiled and an odd off-putting light shined in his slightly mismatched green eyes, "The 2020 election for the presidency. Enough of this servitude to lairs and thieves. I must be the ultimate choice for the Democratic party and four years is plenty of time to show Congress just how unfit Walker is without me backing him."
"So you're saying we need to make sure that enough happens for the party to nominate you over Walker in four years?"
"Precisely. Before this I was very willing to wait in the cabinet, I was very willing to bide my time elsewhere, but now…" Underwood sighed then shook his head with a shrug as if there were no other options, "Walker has done this to himself. I'll scoop the floor out from under him."
"Then let's gather our troops."
Christine sat with a bowl of popcorn in one arm and a blonde cocker spaniel in the other. Having a Friday night to relax and focus on nothing but Orange Is The New Black had been a long time coming. Her computer sat on the old second-hand coffee table before her in Meg's apartment and Christine welcomed the peace of not having to hear Raoul say things during the show like, "That's so hot. Christine…I know you're not into…but if you ever wanted to…You know….I'd so be okay with that."
The thought alone was enough to make her scowl. Christine believed in love and that there were all kinds of love that could be represented, but she wasn't the kind of person who was open to having a third person in the bedroom. She wondered at times if she was really in love with Senator Raoul Peters or if she was still pining after an ignorant childhood crush. He had been much older than her when she met him first. After all, for children, even two years difference seems huge. She had been twelve and living with her father as he played violin in an evening quartet in Cape Cod. All the workers were given housing that summer and as her mother had died a few years prior so where ever Charlie went, Christine would follow.
That had been the summer when pre-teen Christine had fallen in love with a handsome young lifeguard who was always falling asleep on the job. Every day she would sneak into the resort's pool and try to act mature enough for him to notice her. Back then he would play games with her, even harmlessly flirt with her when no one was looking. On the last day of the summer she had built up enough courage to tell him she loved him, but just as she was waiting for him to come out of the locker room after his shift, she saw him leave with another girl on his arm. She was laughing loudly, her hair was messy, and her make up was slightly smeared. She wore only a little bikini and Christine noticed that the bottom of the suite had been put on inside out. As Raoul cracked a smile and wiped his the sweat from his brow, he looked to where the horrified Christine was curled up on a beach chair.
Raoul Peters was Christine's first love and her first broken heart. It took her a few years to stop stuffing her bra in hopes that she wouldn't miss a chance encounter and see her for more than just a little girl. The inner conflict of wishing her body to develop into something more feminine and remaining thin and ridged up until her later teens was devastating. By the time she was on the cusp of womanhood, such things no longer seemed to matter at all anymore. He love was gone and she was too preoccupied with her father's failing health to think of much else.
That all seemed like ages ago and it was behind Christine. She sometimes wondered if the perfect prince she had first envisioned Raoul to be had been there at all. What if Raoul was always the same and she had been the one to change? He had been the one to seek after her when they were reunited in D.C. and that was by complete chance. All too suddenly, if she put on some makeup, got her hair in order and wore more form-fitting clothing, she could be the pretty girl in the locker room, but only ever to stay there and never come out into the public eye. She admitted to herself that she had been lonely for some time when he met up with her again. The job was offered first as a way to get her back on her feet. She wasn't expected to rise through the ranks as well as she did. This even surprised Raoul. The relationship, the long talks after everyone had left the office, the "business" dinners, and eventually the nights sharing a bed were never meant to happen. Christine had issues remembering what happiness looked like when she was faced with homelessness and hunger. Having basic needs being met was enough to make her feel she was doing something good for herself even if there was a part of her that was living a lie.
Regardless, such thoughts were too deep for a Friday night. Orange Is The New Black was much more interesting.
Underwood and Nadir drove around for much longer that night. They didn't like to speak at either of their homes. Erik was never much of a host and preferred to keep his work away from where he slept…when he slept anyway. By sometime after midnight they had come up with enough battle plans that Douglas was finally being dropped off at his meager row house located only a few blocks from Union Station.
"I believe this plan will work far better. Good night, Doug."
"Good night, boss."
With that, the car door had been slammed shut. Erik relaxed knowing that he was now on his way back to the only peace he knew of anywhere in the DMV area. Looking out the window he noticed a sea of orange barrels and rolled his eyes. This city was always under a plague of construction and it looked like the original short commute back to the Capitol Hill neighborhood would be lengthened by a good ten to twenty minutes on a Friday night. As his driver made his way down the H Street Corridor, Erik was sickened by the sheer mass of people that flooded the streets and bars. It used to be that no one would come here unless they were looking for a death wish. Now, gentrification was winning its own battle and the swell of the drunken masses was enough to make him sick.
Erik pushed the intercom to his driver, "Get off this street."
"Sorry sir," and with that, the car turned down Eleventh Street Northeast.
It wouldn't be long before he was home and he nearly closed his eyes, but not before catching a cop's lights flash at his window. A fine red sports car had been stopped and Erik squinted to see a little bit closer to see if he had, in fact, recognized the vehicle. Coming up on Lincoln Park and afraid that he might lose his vision as they turned the corner towards the Southeast quarter of the city, Erik called to his driver again, "Circle this park."
At first, they had to go far away from the vehicle, but on turning around the park, Erik saw that the cop was taking a man out of the car. A clearly intoxicated Raoul Peters slid out and put his hand over his face as if to protect it from being seen. Seeing that he was now being put into handcuffs, Erik smiled slightly as he took out his phone.
Pulling up the messages screen, Erik wrote, We have our first pawn, and sent it to Nadir before telling his driver to make their way to the nearest police station to wait.
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