Regrets? Richard Goodwin didn't have many. Dick, first in his class at Harvard Law, had resisted the lure of Wall Street in exchange for a job with the government and had married a beautiful, intelligent woman. One might ask him then about a bigoted and narrow-minded society, and there was that, but he regretted that for all mankind not just for himself.
Charles Van Doren was one of those few regrets.
He sat stoically before the Senate subcommittee – not twenty feet away at the witness table –amid the throng of onlookers and newsmen, flashbulbs popping as if the President himself was in attendance. Sweat already forming on Charlie's brow, there was a hesitancy in his voice, some uncertainty as he began a statement that ended in contrition and embarrassment. Not so much for himself, Dick thought, but for the Van Doren family name.
In his naïveté, Dick had sought only to put television on trial. Big television. The networks and deep-pocketed sponsors to whom simple American values such as truth and justice didn't seem to matter or apply. He'd never meant for the stain to reach the contestants, most of them pawns blinded by the easy money dangled from the lips of unscrupulous lackeys like worms on hooks. And all in the name of higher ratings and increased sales.
By choice, he'd never meant for any of it to touch Charlie. Don't make me call you. Jesus, he'd done everything but draw Van Doren a picture and they'd had a deal.
Dick sat behind the Chairman as the Senate panel took turns to address Charlie. Each one of them knowing which way their particular wind would blow them the most favor. Pompous asses trying to save face at the expense of someone who simply should have known better. Someone who'd come there to shed a burden. And then Senator Derounian spoke. The chamber, silent as a church when he'd finished, slowly swelled then erupted with the sound of applause. The sentiment of the crowd squarely against Charlie. Dick swallowed hard as Charlie's eyes fell on him.
He hated the look he saw there, while at the same time feeling he was somewhat to blame. They were flaying Van Doren bare. The deep scarlet that rose across Charlie's cheeks burned Dick's as well. Christ, his parents were sitting right there.
When Charlie had been dismissed and amid the feeding frenzy that ensued, Dick sat, stunned, and watched his case unravel into nothing but a waste of taxpayer dollars. Watched Enright and Freedman fall on their swords and knew that it wouldn't even matter. Like a bad virus, they'd come back and come back even stronger.
Finally, thinking of Charlie facing his own music outside the chamber, Dick retreated to the hallway men's room, trying to forget the way his stomach lurched when Charlie had focused squarely on him. He ran the cold water and had a sudden urge to be sick, but fought it. Fighting was something Dick did well. In particular, fighting with himself.
He'd known from that afternoon in Cornwall that Charlie was going to be a fight. One he thought he might avoid until the night of the poker game at Charlie's place. Granted, he'd only agreed to go because he was certain Charlie knew more than he was saying. And, good, bad or indifferent, Dick was like a dog with a bone when he was on to something.
Only he hadn't expected the golden boy to awaken in him a craving he'd tried so hard to keep hidden. America's favorite son, a man desired by so many others as well. That night, their conversation had skirted issues that had nothing to do with poker and everything to do with what he thought Charlie was hiding.
Dick never expected simple banter during a game to take on another layer – one that ran like a subterranean tunnel and just as hot. One that seemed buried alongside the hunger in eyes that shone like molten green gold in the smoky, dim light. Soon, neither of them had been talking about poker or Charlie's culpability… and they both had known it.
Even so, Dick had been a good little soldier when the evening drew to a close. A stance that had managed to claw its way to the surface past Dick's own hunger, even past the muzzy Scotch glow that usually emboldened him. Van Doren had gone to great pains to make sure Dick was the last to leave, had stood near him at the door, eyes begging for something his mouth wasn't sharing. The whole charismatic Van Doren aura swirling around him, so close Dick could feel its heat, smell its expensive cologne.
But what had really disarmed him, what had him reeling and teetering on the edge of giving in was the vulnerability alive in Van Doren's little-boy smile. That innocence with an edge of wickedness, like a ten year-old repeating a dirty joke. That, coupled with the whisper of Charlie's erection across his thigh and the headiness of that knowledge, had his pulse pushing Dick closer and closer to yielding.
And it was that sin-encrusted innocence that he craved – just as he did with women – his own need to feel powerful, yet have that power kicked back on him and revel in the submission to it. But he'd cut and run, hadn't he? Tossed his chance away to the cool night air. So curious, so damn near desperate for it, yet still not willing to cross the fucking line.
Like the night he'd gone to that bar on 8th Street. Curious then, too, and so determined. He'd ordered a drink, taken a table, and watched. Watched the lean, muscled bodies move suggestively against one another on the tiny dance floor, his palms sweating at the thought of someone stopping at his table and at the same time secretly hoping they would. And when someone had – with his tanned skin and brilliant-white, fuck-me smile – what had Dick done? He'd bought the man a drink and made small talk until reality had laid its cards on the table in the form of a hand on his thigh and ill-timed flashes of his own heterosexual prejudices and religious sensibilities. He'd quickly excused himself as if he were going to the john and then disappeared.
The guy at the bar had gotten him hot, but he'd run home to Sandra to let her finish the job. Christ, what an amazing rush when she'd rolled him and climbed on top. When she'd set the pace, brought him to the brink and backed off, pinned him to the bed with her need, with her desire, as if the only reason he existed was for her pleasure.
Dick longed for that same feeling with a man. He wanted a man's weight on top of him, wanted to feel hard muscle beneath him and a stiff cock in his hands. His heart pounded blood to his own dick with the very thought of what it must be like to submit to Charlie. Trying to push that thought away with the heel of his hand, he knew it was no use. He wanted his skin to burn with Charlie's touch, wanted to taste the man in his mouth and feel where he'd been inside him for days.
The night after the poker game, Dick had barely made it inside his hotel room. Leaning against the closed door, he'd jerked off as soon as he could get a hand down his pants, unbuckling and shoving clothes out of his way with the other. He'd worked himself hard and fast to the smoke-hazed image of Charlie sitting across the card table, the way his mouth had circled the cigarettes he'd smoked and the way he'd used his tongue to tease ice in his glass. Thinking of the look in Charlie's eyes, a message that was clear enough even before Charlie had put words to it. Won't you stay?
He'd come inside that green-gold spiral, his knees buckling from the force of the want in Charlie's alcohol-husked voice and too goddamn many scotch and sodas.
Regret? It sat like a stone in his heart as Dick watched Charlie take those last few steps to the taxi. Given a choice, he wouldn't have had it end this way. There'd been something unspoken between them that night at Columbia. An understanding as well as a deal. Something that had said not here, not now, but promised some time, some place.
Charlie turned at the last minute, looking up in the bright Washington sun that circled him like a religious icon. Their eyes met.
Some time. Some place.
Dick repeated the words in his head as if they were whispers in Charlie's ear, and kept repeating them even as Charlie climbed inside and the cab pulled away from the curb.
A promise or more repressed woolgathering? They'd both need time to tell.