The political signs were littered all throughout the neatly manicured lawns of Clementine Hozier’s neighborhood. She was already sick of seeing them, and things were only just beginning.
This was supposed to be a banner election season —at least that’s what all the pundits said. And the candidate on everyone’s radar was State legislator Lincoln Harper, who was running for California’s open US Senate seat. Talk radio, Twitter, even the Sunday talking head shows, had him as the odds on favorite to win. Clementine worked on several of Harper’s previous campaigns; now both would be tested on the national stage.
Clementine was Harper’s protégé, and anything else he needed her to be for that matter. She made it clear she would do whatever Lincoln needed to get him elected, and he took full advantage of her eagerness.
Clementine pulled into her driveway, furious when she saw that someone had planted one of those idiotic political signs on her very own lawn. When she saw whose name was on the sign however, Clementine recognized it for what it was —a message from the would-be Senator himself. The “Vote for Lincoln Harper for US Senate” sign meant he wanted to see her. That was usually Lincoln’s way of secretly letting Clementine know that he was inside her home, waiting to see his protégé in a more private setting. Clementine looked nervously around, yanked the sign out of the ground, and hurried into her house.
Lincoln was sitting comfortably on the couch in Clementine’s living room, holding one of the imported beers she kept for him in the fridge.
For some reason, seeing him sitting there like he owned the whole damned place annoyed her, “What do you want?” she asked, obviously irritated.
“Well, hello to you too Clem.” He took a sip of his beer then said. “You know why I’m here.”
Indeed she did. Lincoln Harper usually had one thing on his mind when he made one of his secret visits to Clementine, but this time sex was not on the agenda. If the former Mayor, and current State Senator wanted to join the big boys in D.C., he had to take care of one big problem —his estranged daughter Joni. The one big ass chink in his otherwise spotless armor.
Joni was back in town just in time to either ruin his entire campaign, or be the godsend that puts Lincoln over the top. After years of estrangement from her father, the prodigal daughter returned —and this worried Lincoln Harper. He wanted Clementine to find out what Joni’s plans were, in order to avoid any potential landmines that might haunt his campaign.
“Are you going to do it or not?” Lincoln said impatiently. He sat there staring at Clementine with those smoky gray eyes that could always convince her to do things against her better judgment. He may have been 20 years her senior, but he was still quite handsome; trim, slightly graying at the temples, and a smile for that could even bring his political opponents to his side.
Clementine took a long hard look at Lincoln Harper, and thought about what he was asking her to do.
* * * * * *
Clementine and Joni Harper had been friends since grade school, and the girls developed a bond that had never been broken; not even after Joni’s relationship with her father had become strained, or when Clementine began working for Lincoln in the Mayor’s office. Of course Clementine never divulged that she was sleeping with Joni’s father —that was one minor detail she left out of their weekly calls to each other. But Joni had secrets of her own, ones she hoped would prevent Lincoln Harper from becoming the next Senator from California. Guess this is what counts as best friends in the world of politics.
Joni moved to Boston after college in order to get some distance from her family. She wanted no part of living life in a fishbowl, nor did she want to be under the thumb of Lincoln, who could be very controlling. Lincoln and Ellen Harper had been married for 30 years, but Joni never had much of a relationship with her mother. The woman had been so broken down by her husband that she checked out years ago, emotionally abandoning her only child in favor of the wine and prescription pills that flowed freely anytime she needed them. That was Lincoln’s way of keeping her content, as well as uninterested his personal predilections for younger women.
Lincoln always had big ambitions, so when he decided to run for the Senate, Joni was contacted in the hopes that she would be a part of the campaign. When she refused, Joni knew her father would see her as a liability that he could not ignore. She was a wild card, who could torpedo the Harper campaign.
* * * * * *
Clementine and Joni were having lunch together for the first time since Joni returned to town. Clementine looked a little distracted, and Joni figured it had something to do with her father.
“So what does Dad want you to do Clem?” Joni asked. Clementine looked surprised by her friend’s question.
Clementine paused for a moment, then said, “He needs you to be on board Joni. Lincoln is afraid you’ll find some eager journalist looking for their Woodward and Bernstein moment, and reveal all those things that could sink his campaign.” Now it was Joni’s turn to be surprised, she didn’t expect Clementine to be so forthcoming.
Her honesty left Joni speechless, Clementine took this as an opportunity to come clean.
“Look Joni, I know you were never happy with me working for your dad. He can be quite the asshole, but he’s good at what he does, and honest with his constituents. Yes he wanted me to get some Intel on you, figure out your plans, but you are still my best friend, so I told him I wouldn’t do it.”
Joni sat back, a small smile crept across her face. “How did he take it?”
“Oh, he was mad.” Clementine said. “Threatened to fire me.”
Joni felt sorry for Clementine, she knows Lincoln expects complete obedience. Joni chuckled, “I’m not surprised he asked you to do this Clem, Politics is a dirty business.”
Joni continued, “I don’t know why you chose this career. Dad will do whatever it takes to win, and ruin anyone who gets in his way —including you Clem. I can’t let him do that.”
“So you do have plans?” Clementine asked, she sounded scared.
“I have some things up my sleeve, but don’t you worry Clem, I’ll keep you out of it.”
The friends parted ways, promising to do lunch each week regardless of how busy their lives became. When Joni was alone she pulled out a few photos that she hadn’t told Clementine about. They were pictures of her best friend and father, in a very intimate embrace. What Clementine didn’t know was that Joni was planning on bringing both her father, and her childhood friend to their knees.
* * * * * *
Dinner at the Harper’s was always a formal affair, even when it was just Joni and her parents. She agreed to see her father and discuss the possibility of joining him on the campaign trail. In reality, Joni had no intention of becoming his pawn. Tonight she would end any hopes he had of winning that Senate seat.
Lincoln Harper answered the door —of course, that’s what he did to take control of the situation. A friendly greeting, engage in pleasant chit-chat, and before you know it, he’d have you in the palm of his hands. Joni had seen it for years, and it didn’t fool her one bit.
“Where’s mom?” She asked.
Lincoln smiled, “She’s in the dining room waiting for you.” He moved aside to let Joni in.
Dinner was nice. The three did a lot of reminiscing about the past, and very little talk of the real reason for Joni’s invite. That was one of her dad’s tricks as well; make your guest feel at east, and when they let their guard down, convince them to do what you want. She wasn’t buying it.
Joni, Lincoln, and a tipsy Ellen, made their way back to the library for drinks and more small talk. With a keen eye on her father, Joni reached into her purse and took out the envelope that contained the pictures of Lincoln and Clementine; she placed them on the table in front of him.
He casually picked them up, and looked at the pictures. Joni waited for him to turn red and explode in one of his famous tirades. But there was no reaction at all. He simply placed the photos back in the envelope and set them on the table.
Ellen Harper was suddenly quite lucid, but she looked worried.
“What’s going on?” Joni asked. No longer did she feel like she had the upper hand.
“Oh Joni.” Lincoln said. “I was hoping you would just let it all go.”
Joni looked anxiously at her mother. “Look at the pictures mom!”
Ellen Harper shook her head.
Suddenly Joni got it. “You know he’s cheating on you with Clementine. You’ve always known, haven’t you?”
Ellen shrugged. Somewhere along the way she popped a few pills, because Joni could see her mother’s grasp on reality slipping away.
Lincoln looked at his daughter, and almost felt sorry for her. “Do you think Clem and I would be so careless as to let some yahoo take pictures of us? It was all a show —for you dear. But I’d hoped you wouldn’t use the photos. Guess I was wrong. Clem wasn’t though, she thought you would. She’s a clever one, that girl.”
Joni’s mouth dropped. Clementine set her up. Joni started feeling a bit light headed.
“A little sleepy dear?” Lincoln asked.
“Did you drug me?”
“That’s the only way we could make this all work, honey. Now close your eyes.” Lincoln’s smile began to fade.
Her father’s face was that last thing Joni remembered. She woke up in a hotel room, with someone banging on the door. Joni stumbled to go answer it, and in rushed the police, pushing her to the floor and handcuffing her. The room was littered with drug paraphernalia. She began to cry.
The media was there, yelling questions at her, asking her about her drug binge, and why she refused help form her family.
The police released Joni into her parents care, and they took her home in front of an adoring press.
“Thank you all for your concern,” Lincoln said as Joni’s mother helped her into the car. She listened to him re-set the game, and knew he had beaten her. “Joni has been struggling with addiction for years, we had hoped that a new environment back East would help, but…” His voice trailed off.
‘Nice touch Dad.’ Joni thought.
“We would appreciate some privacy during this time, while her mother and I contemplate whether or not we continue this run for the Senate. Thank you all very much for your concern.”
In the car, Lincoln gave Joni a triumphant smile. “I was good wasn’t I? Loving father, worried about his drug addled daughter. I’ve got this election in the bag, and all thanks to you Joni.”
Joni sat in silence, wishing she had never returned home.
The car took them back to the Harper family compound, where Clementine was waiting.
Her former best friend gave Joni the same victorious smile that Lincoln had given her. She looked at Lincoln and said, “That worked out better than expected.”
He beamed, “You knew exactly how things would work out my dear, that’s what makes you so invaluable.” Then he grabbed Clementine and kissed her. Ellen Harper retired to her bedroom.
Joni was in shock. “Clem…” Was all she could muster, causing Clementine to burst out laughing.
“Didn’t see this coming, did ya smarty pants?” Clementine moved towards Joni who was still standing near the door. “You always thought you were so much smarter than everyone else. The way you insulted Lincoln, and talked down to me. You have no idea how fun this whole charade was.”
Lincoln got himself a drink, and sat back to watch the show.
“All you had to do Joni was stay out of it. You could’ve told any reporter that you just didn’t have an interest in politics, and valued your privacy. Instead, you came to town with the express purpose of ruining your father’s chance at winning the Senate seat. Don’t you see, I had to stop you?”
Joni was in tears, but Clementine continued. “Here’s the deal. The pictures were a setup, some guy we hired to throw you off the scent. You have been released into your parent’s custody, so you’ll do a stint in rehab —make it look good, will ya? And if you want to stay out of jail, you will be a staunch supporter of your father’s political campaign. You’ll appear where we say, and smile while doing it. Of course you know now that no one will believe anything coming out of the mouth of a troubled drug addict, so play along or sit in a psychiatric hospital until you’re too old to be of any threat to us.”
Then Clementine looked at Joni with the most sinister smile on her face. “It’s like you said Joni, Politics is a dirty business.”
* * * * * *
Lincoln Harper’s entire family stood with him on election night. He won in a landslide victory. Exit polling found that many voted for Harper due in large part to a very public reconciliation with his troubled daughter.
Clementine Hozier was promoted to his Chief of Staff.
Like this story? Want to participate in future “Theme Weeks”? Look out for our December prompt later this month.