Rebecca took a large gulp of wine and decided to sit this one out. She had been coming to his rescue less and less in recent months. A nagging thought was that, while life would be magical with her, it would be a nightmare with them. The nightmares were winning.
"Our Constitution guarantees everyone a lawyer and a fair trial," he said condescendingly, as if every fool should know this. "I'm just doing my job."
Barb rolled her new eyes and looked at the eighteenth green. Many of the ladies at Potomac had been using a plastic surgeon whose specialty, evidently, was the Asian look. After the second session the eyes strained backward at the corners, and, while wrinkle-free, were grossly artificial. Ol' Barb had been nipped and tucked and Botoxed without a long-range plan, and the transition simply was not working.
Rebecca took another long pull on the wine. The first time they had eaten there with her parents she had kicked off a shoe under the table and run her toes up and down his leg, as if to say, "Let's blow this joint and hop in the sack." But not tonight. She was icy and seemed preoccupied. Clay knew she wasn't worrying about whatever meaningless hearings she would suffer through tomorrow. There were issues here, just under the surface, and he wondered if this dinner might be a showdown, a powwow with the future on the line.
Bennett arrived in a rush, full of bogus apologies for being late. He slapped Clay on the back as if they were fraternity brothers, and kissed his girls on the cheeks.
"How's the Governor?" Barb asked, loud enough for the diners across the room to hear.
"Great. He sends his best. The President of Korea is in town next week. The Guv has invited us to a black-tie gala at the mansion." This too was offered at full volume.
"Oh really!" Barb gushed, her redone face erupting into a contortion of delight.
Should feel right at home with the Koreans, Clay thought.
"Should be a blast," Bennett said as he pulled a collection of cell phones from his pocket and lined them up on the table. A few seconds behind him came a waiter with a double Scotch, Chivas with a little ice, the usual.
Clay ordered an ice tea.
"How's my Congressman?" Bennett yelled across the table to Rebecca, then cut his eyes to the right to make sure the couple at the next table had heard him. I have my very own Congressman!
"He's fine, Daddy. He sends his regards. He's very busy."
"You look tired, honey, a tough day?"
The three Van Horns took a sip. Rebecca's fatigue was a favorite topic between her parents. They felt she worked too hard. They felt she shouldn't work at all. She was pushing thirty and it was time to marry a fine young man with a well-paying job and a bright future so she could bear their grandchildren and spend the rest of her life at the Potomac Country Club.
Clay would not have been too concerned with whatever the hell they wanted, except that Rebecca had the same dreams. She had once talked of a career in public service, but after four years on the Hill she was fed up with bureaucracies. She wanted a husband and babies and a large home in the suburbs.
Menus were passed around. Bennett got a call and rudely handled it at the table. Some deal was falling through. The future of America's financial freedom hung in the balance.
"What should I wear?" Barb asked Rebecca as Clay hid behind his menu.
"Something new," Rebecca said.
"You're right," Barb readily agreed. "Let's go shopping Saturday."
Bennett saved the deal, and they ordered. He graced them with the details of the phone call - a bank was not moving fast enough, he had to light a fire, blah, blah. This went on until the salads arrived.
After a few bites, Bennett said, with his mouth full, as usual, "While I was down in Richmond, I had lunch with my close friend Ian Ludkin, Speaker of the House. You'd really like this guy, Clay, a real prince of a man. A perfect Virginia gentleman."
Clay chewed and nodded as if he couldn't wait to meet all of Bennett's good friends.
"Anyway, Ian owes me some favors, most of them do down there, and so I just popped the question."
It took Clay a second to realize that the women had stopped eating. Their forks were at rest as they watched and listened with anticipation.
"What question?" Clay asked because it seemed that they were expecting him to say something.
"Well, I told him about you, Clay. Bright young lawyer, sharp as a tack, hard worker, Georgetown Law School, handsome young man with real character, and he said he was always looking for new talent. God knows it's hard to find. Said he has an opening for a staff attorney. I said I had no idea if you'd be interested, but I'd be happy to run it by you. Whatta you think?"
I think I'm being ambushed, Clay almost blurted.
Rebecca was staring at him, watching closely for the first reaction.
According to the script, Barb said, "That sounds wonderful."
Talented, bright, hardworking, well educated, even handsome. Clay was amazed at how fast his stock had risen. "That's interesting," he said, somewhat truthfully. Every aspect of it was interesting.
Bennett was ready to pounce. He, of course, held the advantage of surprise. "It's a great position. Fascinating work. You'll meet the real movers and shakers down there. Never a dull moment. Lots of long hours, though, at least when the legislature is in session, but I told Ian that you had broad shoulders. Pile on the responsibilities."
"What, exactly, would I be doing?" Clay managed to get out.
"Oh, I don't know all that lawyer stuff. But, if you're interested, Ian said he'd be happy to arrange an interview. It's a hot ticket, though. He said the resumes were flooding in. Gotta move quick."
"Richmond's not that far away," Barb said.
It's a helluva lot closer than New Zealand, Clay thought. Barb was already planning the wedding. He couldn't read Rebecca. At times she felt strangled by her parents, but rarely showed any desire to get away from them. Bennett used his money, if indeed he had any left, as a carrot to keep both daughters close to home.
"Well, uh, thanks, I guess," Clay said, collapsing under the weight of his newly bestowed broad shoulders.
"Starting salary is ninety-four thousand a year," Bennett said, an octave or two lower so the other diners couldn't hear.
Ninety-four thousand dollars was more than twice as much as Clay was currently earning, and he assumed that everyone at the table knew it. The Van Horns worshiped money and were obsessed with salaries and net worths.
"Wow," Barb said, on cue.
"That's a nice salary," Clay admitted.
"Not a bad start," Bennett said. "Ian says you'll meet the big lawyers in town. Contacts are everything. Do it a few years, and you'll be able to write your own ticket in corporate law. That's where the big money is, you know."
It was not comforting to know that Bennett Van Horn had suddenly taken an interest in planning the rest of Clay's life. The planning, of course, had nothing to do with Clay, and everything to do with Rebecca.
"How can you say no?" Barb said, prodding with two left feet.
"Don't push, Mother," Rebecca said.
"It's just such a wonderful opportunity," Barb said, as if Clay couldn't see the obvious.
"Kick it around, sleep on it," Bennett said. The gift had been delivered. Let's see if the boy is smart enough to take it.
Clay was devouring his salad with a new purpose. He nodded as if he couldn't speak. The second Scotch arrived and broke up the moment. Bennett then shared the latest gossip from Richmond about the possibility of a new professional baseball franchise for the D.C. area, one of his favorite topics. He was on the fringes of one of three investment groups jockeying for the franchise, if and when one was ever approved, and he thrived on knowing the latest developments.