"I told you, you can't have the mustache and the Trans Amit's one or the other," Harris adds.
LaRue laughs, and I shake my head. When the Founding Fathers set up the government, they split the legislative branch into two sides: the House and the Senate. I'm here in the House, which is in the south half of the Capitol. Harris works in the Senate, which is all the way over on the north. It's a whole different world over there, but somehow, Harris still remembers the latest update on our shoeshine guy's facial hair. I don't know why I'm surprised. Unlike the monsters who walk these halls, Harris doesn't talk to everyone as a political maneuver. He does it because that's his giftas the son of a barber, he's got the gift of gab. And people love him for it. That's why, when he walks into a room, Senators casually flock around him, and when he walks into the cafeteria, the lunch lady gives him an extra ladle of chicken in his burrito.
Reaching Enemark's gray suit jacket, Harris pulls it from the coat-rack and fishes for the lapel. The toilet flushes behind us. We all spin back toward the stall. Harris is still holding the jacket. Before any of us can react, the door to the stall swings open.
If we were brand-new staffers, this is where we'd panic. Instead, I bite the inside of my cheek and take a deep gulp of Harris's calm. Old instincts kick in. As the door to the stall opens, I go to step in front of the Congressman. All I have to do is buy Harris a few seconds. The only problem is, Enemark's moving too quickly.
Sidestepping me without even looking up, Enemark is someone who avoids people for a living. Leaving the stall, he heads straight for the coat-rack. If Harris is caught with his jacket . . .
"Congressman . . . !" I call out. He doesn't slow down. I turn to follow, but just as I spin around, I'm surprised to see Enemark's gray coat hanging lifelessly on the coat-rack. There's a sound of running water on the right side of the room. Harris is washing his hands by the sink. Across from him, LaRue rests his chin in his palm, studying C-SPAN with his fingers covering his mouth. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
"Excuse me?" Enemark asks, taking his coat from the rack. The way it's draped over his forearm, I can't see the lapel. The pin's nowhere in sight.
I glance over at Harris, who's wearing a calm that's almost hypnotic. His green eyes disappear in a soft squint, and his dark black eyebrows seem to take over his face. Japanese is easier to read.
"Son, did you say something?" Enemark repeats.
"We just wanted to say hello, sir," Harris interrupts, leaping to my aid. "Really, it's an honor to meet you. Isn't that right, Matthew?"
"A-Absolutely," I say.
Enemark's chest rises at the compliment. "Much appreciated."
"I'm Harris . . . Harris Sandler . . ." he says, introducing himself even though Enemark didn't ask. Leaving the sink, Harris studies the Congressman like a chessboard. It's the only way to stay ten moves ahead.
The Congressman extends a handshake, but Harris pulls away. "Sorry . . . wet hands . . ." he explains. "By the way, Congressman, this is Matthew Mercer. He does Interior Approps for Congressman Cordell."
"Sorry to hear that," Enemark jabs with a fake laugh as he pumps my hand. Asshole. Without another word, he opens his coat and slides an arm into the sleeve. I check the lapel. There's nothing there.
"Have a good day, sir," Harris says as Enemark slides his other arm in. Enemark rotates his shoulder blades and pulls his suit jacket into place. When the other half of the jacket hits his chest, a tiny flash of light catches my eye. There . . . on his other lapel . . . there's a tiny American flag pin . . . a little triangle with an oil well on it . . . and the Lorax, whose big Dr. Seuss eyes smile at me.
Copyright © 2004 by Forty-four Steps, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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