"Senator Johnson, sir?" Mrs. Adams, my executive secretary, calls from the outer office.

I'm sitting, trying to make a little sense out of next year's budget and having little luck in the endeavor. At 1,257 pages, it's damned heavy -- as is the verbiage. And that's only the one sent in by my state. The national one, the one I should be perusing, is fifty-trillion times that large, and proportionate in complexity. I received it last Tuesday and we're to vote on it tomorrow. Thank the Lord for assistants.

As she speaks, I raise tired eyes at a clock across the desk, almost eight. Most of congress will be home by now, getting ready for a party at the Russian embassy, and I haven't even left my office.

"Sir, your wife's on the phone. She wants to know when you'll be home?" Mrs. Adams continues. I know she's also anxious to leave.

"All right, Edna. And you can go. I won't need you any more today."

I pick up my favorite telephone, one of the old wired-types. I hate those cellphone things and would never own one of the bastards. I have little enough privacy now and would have none with a cellphone. The only privacy left is in my car and on the bathroom throne. I can't imagine taking a crap while talking to the President or my party leaders at the same time.

I push the one lit button on the device, number seven out of nine. Edna could have put it through on any of the others, but I have that particular button marked "B" for "Bitch" in a large Stickum letter. The button's reserved for Julie, my other half. One of these days, when I think of it and have time, I'll change it to "W" for "Whore."

"Yes, precious?" I answer, eyes rolling at my reflection on an ornate wall mirror.

"You better get your ass home, dear, or I'm going to call Phillip. He'd love to take me."

She means the party, of course.

Phillip takes her to many a party, including those in half-ass hotel rooms. I know it and she knows I know it. I have to put up with the humiliation since she knows too damned many secrets about my past, could have my ass on a platter. I'm more careful now, but she's been in on some of my earlier schemes -- the ones when I first ran for office. Now she has me by the short-hairs. Scandal sheets would love to interview her.

"I'm on my way, precious." I hang up carefully, resisting the urge to slam that damned thing into its plastic cradle.

I know the phone's bugged. All our phones are since this damned terrorist scare. The FeeBIes aren't supposed to be allowed to eavesdrop on us lawmakers. Ha! That's a bunch of bull. I do have a definite advantage, though, by being in the right political party.

"It's just in case, sir," the FBI installer told me. "In case a terrorist would call you. Better to have the bug in place and not need it, than to need it and not have it in place." Crap.

I get up, stretch, and look out a window. It overlooks the top level of the parking garage and I can see my Lincoln sitting alone in a corner. The rest of the huge concrete space is cloaked in moonlight, with one lone light pole shining right onto my vehicle. That's why I park there.

I was right. I'm one of the last to leave. But then, most of them have a place to go to -- a place to relax. My usual relaxation is done at the "Tidy Lounge" with Trina, my girl. Lately, even she's been getting possessive. At least Trina thinks I'm a businessman, in the fruit-importing business. I chose that occupation because it wouldn't interest her. Hell, it wouldn't interest anyone but a fruit fly.

As I leave my office, I turn off the lights. There's little illumination as I walk through darkened outer offices. I remember to set the burglar alarm before I close the outer door then proceed, shoes clacking on linoleum, down an equally empty corridor to a fire exit. I have only two flights to trudge down to get to the upper garage level. It's easier to walk it, and good for the old blood pressure.

Getting into my car, I settle back onto a leather seat and stick my key into the ignition. Another twenty minutes and I'll be home. Damn. The engine gives only a weak grinding sound. No purring, no cylinders firing.

"What the hell? I just had you in the shop a couple of days ago." I pound the wheel with the flat of my left hand, grinding away at the starter with the right. "Son ... of ... a ... bitch."

I hear a ringing sound at my side. It's a cellphone. How the hell did it get in here? It's not mine, of course, and my wife's is a greenish color. This one's brown, blending in with the upholstery.

"Son-of-a-bitch," I repeat, gingerly picking the thing up. This is supposed to be a guarded parking lot. How the hell did someone get into my car?

I think back. Yes, the door had been locked. Holding the phone, a little afraid of answering it, I glance over at the other locks, seeing they're all depressed.

"Who is this?" I whisper into the phone while looking around. This isn't one of those half-assed television programs is it? I wonder. The ones where they play tricks on people. That frickin' car battery should be charged.

"Your worst nightmare, Senator Johnson. Your worst nightmare."

It's a man's voice, unfamiliar to me.

"What the hell you want? The security guard will be up here in a minute. I called him on my own cellphone."

The man laughs. "The hell you say, you lying bastard." The man is still giggling. "I have a high-powered rifle on you right now, Senator Asshole. With a very good scope. And I know damned well you don't own a cellphone."

"I'm getting out of here ... right now. You ain't got no damned rifle."

"Look at your hood. Look for the red dot -- the dot of truth."

I see a bright red circle of light dancing over my hood, drifting back and forth. It then seems to leave the front of my car and walk across the pavement, ending up on a wall of the building. There comes a puff of dirt and red chips as a brick explodes into fragments. A fraction of a second later, I hear a muffled "crack."

"You leave the car and you're dead, dead, dead."

"What the hell you want with me? Money?" Although my knees are shaking, I manage to keep a steady voice. The mark of a good politician?

"Hummm. Yeah. For a start ... why not? You can tell me a couple of combinations while we wait here. Like how to get into your office, and for your safe."

"Look, I can't do that. If you want, you come down here and we can go to a bank machine. I can get all you want from there."

"Uh, uh. That's only a few hundred dollars at a time. I happen to know you have many thousands in your office safe."

"I don't keep anything but small change in there. For office supplies. You're wrong."

"Bullshit. Give me the numbers or you get a bullet in the body. I can't see your head too well, but the body will do. You were over in Vietnam. Do you remember what a .223 round can do in a body shot, traveling at almost a thousand meters a second?

"No? You wouldn't. You were stationed in Saigon, working for MACV Administration. A job your daddy got you. Well, it won't hurt, I can tell you that. You'll be dead before you fe--"

"Enough! Stop," I interrupt. "5-12-16-24 for the door."

"Well?"

"Well, what?"

"The other code, for the safe?"

"Look, whoever you are. Why don't you come down here and we can talk this over? I know where you can get more than the few hundred in my safe."

"I'll bet you do, Senator. Like from that oil deal. The BT Oil kickback."

"I ... I don't know anything about that."

"You should recall. It was only two months ago. Word on the circuit is you got a couple hundred thou for that one, and raised everyone in the country's fuel bill in doing it."

"Not really. The President was about to raise taxes at the time. He stopped when the price of oil went up instead. It was a political thing. To keep him from getting blamed for a tax-hike."

In a secret compromise deal, the treasury got most of the price-hike money back -- under the table. Better than taxes. As a major dealer, I received my cut, of course. Though why should I tell this bastard about that part?

"And, just incidentally, added even more to your bank account."

"Well, that wasn't the purpose. It only worked out that way. It gives me more cash to give to the poor."

"Sure. Poor Trina. The poor girl has a new mink to keep her warm this winter."

"I'm sure you're not here to discuss ethics. I can get you a lot of money. I have more salted away, like a few thousand hidden in my backyard."

"I'll bet you do. How much is Alfred, your brother-in-law, holding for you? Another few hundred thousand, I'll bet?"

"Look, I do have him holding extra cash for me, for an emergency -- and this is an emergency. We can go over there right now. He's probably watching television at this very moment. You can have it right away." There's a long pause, giving me hope.

"I wonder just why you don't want me in that safe? That's what I'm thinking."

"No real reason, mister. There's nothing much in there anyway, only a few hundred in petty-cash."

"The numbers? The combination or die?"

I don't know what to do. Maybe I'm simply too damned tired. I can't think straight.

"Look. Tell you what. You come down here and we'll go up together. I'll get the money out myself," I tell him.

I'm stuck. Maybe if I see him, and can talk directly to the man, I can get out of this yet? And then, there is a gun in the safe, but one I don't want him to see. It's hotter'n hell, and my "ace in the hole." It can, in theory at least, send a certain rival senate majority leader to prison.

"Sure. Bet you'd like that. The numbers, asshole?"

I look over to find myself blinded with a red light. even after it swings off my face, I see nothing but scarlet -- the color of blood.

"Sixteen right, eight left, twen -- twenty-four right, and, please, I'm begging you, let me go with you. I'll behave. I promise."

"The last number? Remember, almost a thousand feet a second, 124 grain bullet. It'll punch right through you and the car."

"I ... If I tell you, you'll only shoot me right now."

"You asked me to trust you, didn't you? Now why the devil don't you trust me? I guess trust only works one way with you assholes. Well, It's come down to the wire, hasn't it, Johnson?

"You don't trust me, you die right here and now. You trust me, and just maybe you don't die. The number, Johnson, and right now? No one, two, three, or count to ten.

"You should see me, Johnson. I'm putting pressure on the trigger right now, and it only takes about twelve-pounds pressure. You don't have much time. NOW."

"Twelve, twelve right. Twelve right. That's it." I sit, sobbing, feeling completely helpless, deflated. If I do manage to jump out on the other side of the car without getting shot, it's a twelve-story drop to concrete pavement outside the building.

I sit in a sudden frightening quiet, afraid to move. I realize that it will take him time to get to my building and up to my office. But is he? Does he have someone else doing it for him, right at this very moment? And is he still sitting watching me? Where is that security guard ... probably sleeping? I need help. I'm a frickin' United States Senator -- on Federal Property. Where is my help?

I bring the phone to my eyes, straining in the reflected light. I push "9-1-1" to summon aid, but nothing happens. None of the buttons work, I can tell by the empty feel when I press them.

As I sit, afraid to move, I see a now familiar red dot idly tracing nonsense on the wall. I don't know whether to cheer or faint. As it comes toward me, along the dirty surface of the lot, I crouch down in fear. I feel my crotch collecting moisture as the red dot pauses on the hood of the Lincoln. All I can do is sit and wait, wait for certain death. I don't have the guts, don't have the guts. I know men that do, that would take that chance -- and run. I don't have the guts. Instead I sit, blubbering wordlessly, shuddering in fear.

A man comes toward me, appearing slowly up a sloping surface from the lower levels. He's wearing the uniform of a private security service and is waving a flashlight around, searching the shadows for intruders ... doing his job. The red dot jerks away, out of sight. I almost pass out from relief.

Jumping out of the car, I rush toward him on weak shaking legs, seeing his hand drop onto a holstered pistol.

"Help. Help me." I almost hug him.

He comes with me to my office. I dare not call the police, not when my safe is probably open. I have to find out first. Is the gun still there, and the papers, the vital papers that can shake an administration to its bedrock?

The dark interior of the open safe beckons me, its secrets revealed. I kneel on still-shaking knees to check, and the worst has happened. The papers of secret negotiations, the incriminating evidence I need to stay in office, is gone.

Along with the gun. The gun that can, alone, put me in jail for life. I couldn't keep it at home. My wife might -- might hell? -- have threatened to use it against me. Without my own share of secrets, the other party has me. Has me cold.

Head leaning on cold metal of the useless container, I sob loudly. My public and private lives are, in essence, finished. Forcing myself, I use the elevator to get back to the Lincoln, even though not having any place to go no safety. I'll soon be broke and in disgrace.

Whoever has the papers will be certain to blackmail me. How can I trust my wife? She'll disown me. Involved in politics, the bitch will be going over to the other side to protect herself .

I know the procedure, having done it more than a few times myself. And I know her. She'll be out to cut her losses. Cash and presents cut back, lovely Trina will leave me in a minute. Without my share of political secrets, my enemies will gladly tear me apart ... like I've done to others.

I walk over to the car, stopping to look over the edge -- at cold concrete far below. Glancing back into the vehicle, I notice not one, but two brown cellphones on the front seat, along with a bright-red laser-pen.

Hearing a muffled cough from the shadows, I look up to see two smiling security guards watching. They shrug and turn away, not even having the decency to wait to see me jump.

The End.
Charlie