My boss, Louisa Collins, had faced the setup many times before. It was a meet-and-greet, a political candidate—in this case, Tommy Hinojosa, running for governor of New York—sitting in her office, hoarse and exhausted and yet heroically going on about the need to fix the current political culture. Louisa listened politely, asked the occasional question—Your views on gun control. How’re you going to sell those to the upstate voters? But mostly she kept waiting for The Ask.
It was here somewhere, quietly waiting in a corner to make its appearance. The Ask—the favor, the request, the real reason Hinojosa and his people were paying this visit to Real Story. The Ask had stayed hidden so far, concealed behind a curtain of campaign velvet, but Louisa knew that before Hinojosa left her office, certainly before he got on the elevators, The Ask would be asked.
She wondered where it would come from. Out of whose mouth? The candidate’s himself? Tired Tomas Hinojosa, his eyes present in body but not in spirit, trying to fight through a months-long blur of high school auditoriums, college basements, train stations, fire houses, union halls and backyard fund-raisers.
It could come from the plump, pouty bitch sitting next to him—his wife, Miriam, known to his campaign staffers (as everyone knew) as The Miriam. A sharp-elbowed woman gifted with the ability to badger and berate around the clock. A woman you could toss inside a cement mixer and you still wouldn’t be able to shake the ice cubes out of her pussy. A woman who would castrate God Almighty if it meant getting her husband one more vote,
Though The Ask could come from the woman sitting on the candidate’s other side—his communications director, Mara Caldarella, her Bluetooth headset now grown into a permanent appendage on her ear. Attractive woman. She’d kept her looks despite the thousands of campaign miles mapped all over her face.
“I think I can swing the upstate people,” Tommy was saying, “with a proven record of reform and results. You look at what I’ve done as Nassau County Executive, you can see I’ve been able to—”
Miriam looked at her watch. “Sorry, we’ve got to get going.”
The Hinojosa Trio stood up and thanked Louisa for her time. Tommy and Miriam then proceeded to the corridor outside the office, where security personnel stood with their hands clasped behind their backs and where Real Story staffers were waiting to give the candidate a quick hello.
(Not me. I was in LA that day, negotiating a cover. At that exact moment, in fact, I was having breakfast with a publicist at Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose, listening to the theory that blowjobs are better in LA than New York. Only cause it’s done more here, the publicist was saying. Blowjob’s like a handshake in LA.)
Mara Caldarella lingered in the office doorway. Apparently casual, though Louisa recognized the symptoms. Here comes The Ask.
“What d’you want?” said Louisa.
“Cover,” said Mara. “The two of them.”
Somehow Louisa managed to stay on her feet. Was this woman demented? What possible angle could there be in Tommy’s story? His blindness? Chance in hell. New York had already gone through a blind governor—nothing new there. Louisa frankly couldn’t see anything fresh in the offing.
But she remained polite. “We don’t do politics on the cover.”
“Yeah, you do,” said Mara. “You did it for Landler.”
Yes, well, we had recently done a cover on Oregon Senator Burton Landler and his family. For good reason. The Landlers had been camping near Mount Hood when wildfires broke out. As they were evacuating, they heard someone screaming in the brush. Landler got out of his Range Rover, found a woman who’d broken her leg in an attempt to flee and carried her on his back to safety while the flames closed in.
“That wasn’t politics,” said Louisa. “He saved someone’s life. On that scale, why would we do your guy?”
”Because he’s a remarkable human being. He’s really something special.”
Louisa saw something move in Mara Caldarella’s eyes, a small shift, an almost imperceptible acknowledgement. The woman knew her response was lame beyond belief. The woman was too media savvy to take her own answer seriously.
“Maybe something inside,” Louisa suggested.
Mara shook her head. “Nothing inside. Cover. Cover or nothing.”
Okay, this brief negotiation was over. Louisa shrugged. “I can live with nothing.”
Mara caught up with the Hinojosas by the elevators. They drifted away from the security detail, out of ear range.
“That was fun,” said Mara.
Tommy tilted his head up slightly like he was trying to catch the rays from the ceiling lights. “Whenever you talk to your son, you end up breathing in a different way. Like you’ve got a 30-pound weight on your chest. You’re breathing like that now.”
“It was a no?” said Miriam.
“I told you,” said Mara, “this was the wrong approach. This was the wrong way to do it. We shouldn’t have pushed it like that. We needed a more subtle strategy.”
“Bullshit,” said Miriam.
“It’s like a guy walking into Ladies Night wearing a Cialis T-shirt,” said Mara. “No matter what he thinks, it’s not gonna get him anywhere.”
“Bullshit.” Miriam scrunched her face up. “It had nothing to do with the strategy. It was that lesbian dyke in there, that fucking bull-dyke editor.”
“Easy,” Tommy hushed her. “Easy.”
“It was her. The second we walked in there, the second she saw me, she didn’t like me.”
An elevator came. Subject closed. The security people, efficient, professional—hard turn to your right, Mr. Hinojosa—herded them inside.
Miriam went over the schedule on the go-down. They had a lunch with supporters at the Stone Rose in the Time Warner Center, plus calls to make on the way over. They were insanely overbooked and already behind.
“Sometime this afternoon,” said Tommy, “I want to redub that spot.”
He was talking about an ad Mara had just produced about his efforts to reduce property taxes.
“What’s wrong with it?” said Miriam.
“Listen to it again. Listen closely. Where I say I’m supporting a tax on juice…?”
“It sounds like I’m supporting attacks on Jews.”
“That’s ridiculous. No one’s gonna think that.”
“But I can hear it. I didn’t punch the C enough.”
Miriam’s face just stopped. An unplanned overdubbing session was something her click-click mind couldn’t handle. “Are you sure you want to do this? Cause there’s no give in the schedule. There’s no room for it.”
“This schedule is killing me,” said Tommy.
Mara stayed quiet, silently picking at the flaking chips on her nails.
They moved through the lobby and out into the plaza. Muggy summer Manhattan day, their cars slant parked head-in at the curb, security waiting by the open doors. Mara remembered going for her iPhone to check her messages, watching the Hinojosas walking ahead of her, both smiling but still discussing the lineup of events. She remembered Miriam making a sudden grab for Tommy’s arm, stepping closer to him, saying let me tell you something about timing.
A slow moist breeze riffled across a puddle on the sidewalk, causing little flashes of sunlight to appear and disappear. Then there was another flash, higher up. A white magnesium flash from somewhere in the skyscape, from the rooftop of the building across the street.
Mara remembered hearing a hypersonic crack, then seeing a puff of tiny pink petals floating in slow motion out of the side of Miriam’s head.
Everyone stood for a moment in a kind of hypnotic stupor. Then people were running, crouching, ducking behind planters, hitting the ground, throwing themselves on Tommy. Hard screams, panicked and incoherent. Pigeons scattering. People across the street taking photos and videos with their phones.
Mara remembered seeing Miriam’s body fall, the side of her head the reddish brown of a stained Tampon. She remembered thinking that: The side of her head looks just like the stains on a Tampon.
The ironic part of it: In the next issue of Real Story, the Hinojosas made the cover.