"If so," he answered, "you're free to take it personally. Tongue-tied Catholic boys from Newark don't usually get much practice. Lord knows that Meg and I weren't much good to each other, in any way."
If only, Lara thought, Meg could be dismissed so simply. But her existence affected them still--publicly, because Kerry's lack of an annulment had forestalled them from marrying in the Church; privately, because their love affair had begun while Kerry was married. Its secrecy had saved Kerry's chances of becoming President: only after his divorce and the California primary, when Kerry himself had been wounded by a would-be assassin, had they come together in public.
Now she touched the scar the bullet had left, a red welt near his heart. "We've been good to each other," she said. "And very lucky."
To Lara, he seemed to sense the sadness beneath her words, the lingering regrets which shadowed their new life. "Just lucky?" he answered softly. "In public life, we're a miracle. Rather like my career."
This aspect of his worldview--that good fortune was an accident--was, in Lara's mind, fortified by his certainty that gunfire had made him President: first by killing James, the deserving brother; then by wounding Kerry, causing the wave of sympathy which, last November, had helped elect him by the narrowest of margins, with California tipping the balance. But this had also given him a mission, repeated in speech after speech: "to eradicate gun violence as surely as we ended polio."
"Speaking of miracles," she asked, "is your meeting with the gun companies still a go?"
"A handful of companies," Kerry amended. "The few brave souls willing to help keep four-year-olds from killing themselves with that new handgun Dad bought for their protection. If you listen to the SSA, tomorrow will be the death knell of gun rights in America." Suddenly, he smiled. "Though in preparing for the meeting, I discovered that it's you who's hell-bent on disarming us."
"You, and your entire profession." Turning, Kerry removed a magazine from the briefing book on his nightstand; as he flipped its pages, Lara saw that it was the monthly publication of the Sons of the Second Amendment, perhaps Washington's most powerful lobby, and that its cover featured a venomous cartoon of Kerry as Adolf Hitler.
" 'Surveys,' " Kerry read, " 'have shown that most reporters for the major media live in upper-class homes, head and shoulders above most of us in fly-over country. Many took their education at Ivy League universities where they protested the Vietnam conflict, smoked dope, loved freely, and ingested every ultraliberal cause their professors threw at them.' " Pausing, he said wryly, "Truth to tell, they're onto something. What was wrong with you?"
Lara propped her head up with one hand. "My mother cleaned houses. So I was afraid to lose my scholarship. Besides, I missed the war by twenty years."
"It hardly matters--you caught up soon enough. Listen to this: 'Once they graduated, they faced the prospect of going to work. What better way to earn a fat paycheck and change the world than become a reporter for ABC, or CBS or NBC or CNN or write for the New York Times?'
"That's you," Kerry added, fixing her with a mock-accusatory gaze, and then continued. " 'Having become gainfully employed, these men and women from Yale and Harvard and Brown and Princeton brought their own biases with them. Many do not know anyone who owns guns. Their only exposure to firearms comes when they report on the carnage left by a deranged shooter going "postal" . . .' "
"How about knowing someone who actually got shot?" Lara interjected. "Does that count?"
"Oh, that? That just means you've lost your objectivity. Like me."
The rueful remark held an undertone of bitterness. This involved far more, Lara knew, than what his opponents claimed--anger at his brother's death, or his own near death. Kerry was sick of bloodshed, weary of meeting, year after year, with families who had lost loved ones, of trying to comfort them with the same empty phrases. For him, his failure was both political and deeply personal. And Kerry did not live with failure--especially regarding guns--well.
Excerpted from Balance of Power by Richard North Patterson Copyright© 2003 by Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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