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"BEDFELLOWS"


entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark
SUNDAY, 9 MAY, '96 2049 P M

Once Bob had whispered his message into her ear, and grinned for a second into her astonished face, he left the uproarious convention floor and went straight to his hotel room. He turned on the television just in case, but he knew nothing more of importance would happen that night --- not the move for acclamation, not the boisterous demonstrations, not even Walter Mondale's acceptance speech --- so he undressed and got into a robe. When he found Libby's teary mascara-stains all over the shoulder of his shirt he kissed them, smiling, and threw it into the trash. He had won after all, as he always knew he would. He didn't know whether she would pay up, but just in case he took the tiny jeweler's box out of his luggage, and was placing it on the night-stand next to the condoms when a pair of small fists hammered loudly on his door.

When he opened she stomped rigidly past him, chin down, hair in disarray, eyes blazing, snarling "All right, you Goddam fucking sexist bastard, I'm here! Let's get this over with!"

She kicked her high-heels viciously across the room, clawed the zipper down the back of her dress and dumped it on the floor. "You think I can't take a joke?" she rasped, ripping her bra- hooks open and hurling it at her feet. "I'll play your stupid game, but don't let's waste my time! You ready, or do I have to help you get it up too!"

"I doubt that will be necessary," Bob smiled. Her fury was magnificent! He had stepped to the far side of the bed, preparing himself, admiring the passion with which she yanked girdle and tights to the floor. Her tall, narrow ex-stewardess' frame had filled only slightly as she reached thirty, and she trembled with outrage as she flung herself defiantly open onto the bed.

"Okay!" she shouted. "You got what you wanted! Now just stick it in and get it over with!"

"Well," he said gently, rolling in beside her, "I thought it might be a bit more satisfying if you were on top."

"Oh, Jeez!" she sighed, rolling up on one elbow. "You're not only a sexist bastard, your a lazy one to boot! But, you name it I'll play it. The woman always gets to do all the work anyway, right!"

But he rose to meet her, as tall and lean as she was. As they came together, his strong hands came up and over, gripping her slender shoulders from behind and began directing and urging her surging body on, on, until as she responded he responded and their shuddering bodies emptied themselves into one another and collapsed.

But, many long, inert moments later when he hugged her gently to him and, kissing lightly beneath one ear whispered "You're magnificent!" it only reminded her she had reasons to be angry.

"Yeah, well I guess you got what you asked for, then," she snapped, separating herself and beginning to rise. "And now I'm paid up in full."

But his embrace tightened again. "I believe the exact terms were 'A night in bed with me,' if I remember correctly."

"Auw, God! Give me a break!" she sighed, slipping beside him in a frowning pout. But she stayed.

"Besides," he confided, "there are two things I want to ask you. And the first is political."

They'd met in the Allamakee County Courthouse the night of the first round of Iowa political caucuses. The thirty Democratic citizens had split, deadlocked between Hart and Mondale, and elected a fifty-fifty delegation to the regional round, Libby leading one faction, Bob a member of the other, on up to the state caucas where they were both made delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Libby was an ardent partizan, a co-op organizer, a ban-the- bomb speaker throughout the county and the state. Bob was city attorney of Waukon and had been elected to fill a vacancy on the county school board. They met frequently, and argued politics. He countered her idealistic enthusiasms with cool practical-political analyses. Neither wavered for an instant. Bob couldn't remember at exactly which political party it was that the drinks and the arguments brought him finally to suggest:

"I'll make you a proposition. If Hart wins, I'll join your committees and do everything I can to help you get him elected."

"And, if Mondale wins?"

"You spend a night in bed with me."

Libby stared hard at him before saying, slowly, "Hart is going to win."

"You're that sure?" Bob extended his hand.

"I'm That Sure," she said. And took it.

Then they both collapsed into hysterical laughter and had several more drinks and never mentioned it again.

And so when the fatal first ballot began to roll inexorably toward its conclusion, and state after crucially in-doubt state tumbled over the line toward inevitability, Bob made his way toward Libby, arriving only moments after she realized her heartfelt dream would shatter. The tears were just welling when he touched her and, turning to find a familiar face she collapsed, sobbing into his embrace.

He let her mumble inarticulately in his comforting arms a moment, then whispered "Shh! HE lost; you didn't. Just because the world disagrees with you doesn't mean you were wrong. Stop thinking about the past and go on from here." Then he held her away from him looking into her eyes while she recovered herself a bit, then, "Here," he pressed a card into her hand.

"What's this?"

"It's my room number." At that moment the Mondale forces clinched the nomination, and pandemonium began to erupt all around them. "It's all over for tonight. I'm going there now, and I'll wait for you to come later."

"But why?"

She had to shout to be heard, so he took her in his arms once more so he could whisper in her ear "To collect on our bet." Then, with a last quick grin at her incredulous face he turned and fought his way out of the hall.

"What do you mean, political?" she asked, more wary and curious than angry, while he covered them both with a blanket over the cooling sweat of their bodies.

"I'm thinking of running for Congressman two years from now, and I want you to manage the campaign."

"As a Democrat or a Republican?" she snorted.

Six different people had declared to run as Republicans for the School Committee Charimanship, and all the friends of the people who weren't the nominee voted for Bob, who had declared as a Democrat. He found out he had been the first Democrat to win any election in Allamakee County since 1934 --- and that one had run unopposed.

"I deserve that. No, our man in Washington is an all-the-way- with-Ronnie incompetent, and he doesn't realize the only use Iowa farmers have for the Secretary of Agriculture is as manure. And if you'll help we can take him easy. But that's only step one. Two years later I can run for Senate --- if we win something important first."

"But why me? I'm a loser."

"The hell you are. The most Republican county in the country listened to what you were saying --- because you were Right! You pick the right causes, make great arguments for them, and no one's a better fund-raising speaker anywhere in this state. Four years from now when you say the same things people will realize you're right, and we'll go to the Senate and get things done."

"Then why do I feel like a truck just ran over me."

"Because you're so busy saying and doing the right things you pay no attention to practical political reality. I saw that the first night in Waukon. When we agreed to send a split delegation to the Regionals, all the old-line pols for Mondale looked at each other and said 'Who wants to go?' and filled a slate with all the usual suspects in ten minutes. But you asked everyone to make a speech about Why they wanted to go, and then took a vote."

"I thought that was how Democracy works!"

"And you were Right! Your slate felt they had power, that they spoke for everyone and knew what they were fighting for. But I saw right away that the Mondale people knew which way the wind was blowing, and no matter how right you were, you'd lose."

She frowned over at him. "So you made a sucker-bet, is that what you're telling me?"

He frowned himself. "Well, for one thing I thought you needed a lesson about believing that being right was enough to win. And, besides, at least now I've finally got your attention."

She thought that over a moment. "You said you had two questions to ask me?"

"Oh, yes," he said, handing her the jeweler's box. "I wanted to ask you to marry me."

Inside she found a diamond engagement ring.

"What?"

He nodded. "I've been in love with you since the first night I saw you. Everything about you excites me, astonishes me, thrills me. I think we'd make a good team. I mean in life, not just in politics."

She turned the ring round and round, but didn't put it on her finger. "You know I have a son."

He nodded. "Tom Junior. He's what, thirteen?"

"Fourteen last month."

"A good kid; jumped a grade; and he delivered the whole high school for Hart in the scholastic straw-poll. Reads too much, but he's made a lot of friends."

Libby's husband was a pilot who flew a wide-body into unexpected wind-sheer and died narrowly missing a schoolhouse. She had taken her son to the land they'd planned to retire on, and spent a long time getting over her loss before work with the co-op reawakened her interest in living.

"I can't have any more children," she said, pointing to a caesarean scar.

"I imagine trying to be a new father to a teen-ager will be enough for me to handle right now."

She toyed with the ring some more.

"But if you love me so much, why did you rape me tonight?"

"Oh, I wouldn't ask you to marry me unless I knew we were good in bed for one another. Besides --- was it really rape?"

She said nothing, but tested the ring on her finger. It fit perfectly, glittering in the bedside light.

"And you really think we could go to Washington?"

"Oh yeah. They're ripe. I wouldn't try if I didn't think we'd win. I think with my political judgement and your fire and enthusiasm we can't be beat."

"That sounds like maybe you should be running My campaign for the Senate!"

That was a new idea to Bob. "We'll have to talk a lot about that first, I think."

"Later," she grinned. "Maybe first we should find out if we're good in bed for each other when You're on top."

He flushed. "Then I really didn't disappoint you?"

"What would make you think that?"

"I haven't been to bed with a woman since my wife died."

"But that's five years!"

He nodded.

She started at him for a moment.

"Um, well, I have. Not in a long time, of course. And they were --- brief, and not very important. I mean to me, at least."

"I wouldn't expect a woman as passionate as you to be a nun."

"And yet you managed to... "

"There's never been anyone I wanted to get involved with."

Her long, questioning stare broke, eventually, into a warm smile. "Well, then, we won't be needing these anymore, will we?" And she threw the package of condoms deftly into the trash.

0527 A M, "Sunday night" 9 June, 1996

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