I waited, more nervous about this gambit than I would have liked. I’d arrived too early, but I hadn’t wanted to miss her. Even though I didn’t know who she was.
Oh, I had a name, but I knew women in her profession used aliases. Just like their clients did. Like I hoped my boss had.
I checked my watch again. Finally only three minutes to five. All throughout the city, civil servants were glancing at their own watches, waiting for those three minutes to pass. Three short ticks and they could jam the Beltway on their way home, or head to the bars to toss a couple down while debating the politics of the day.
Just a few short ticks and it would be too late to back out, too late to walk away. I steeled myself.
Two minutes to five.
At least the Congressman was on his way home. Catching my boss in flagrante delicto would have been bad, I reminded myself. Very bad. I didn’t want him as an enemy if I could at all help it.
Which made dealing with his hooker even more delicate. I had to handle this just right…
At one minute to five, the lock clicked and the hotel room door opened.
My breath caught. I’d been preparing myself for this moment all week, but my heart still pounded. Would this work? I forced myself to breathe.
She saw me immediately, but just stood in the doorway, studying me. I studied her in return.
She was older than I’d expected. Probably not forty, but certainly not my age. Her conservative black cocktail dress would have fit in at any of the Hill receptions, though the way she wore her hair, long and straight down her back, would have stood out. As would her eyes. Those eyes that engulfed me even now.
“Just you?” she asked.
“Okay.” She entered the room and let the door swing shut behind her. She paused a few feet away, looking at me.
Since I occupied the room’s only chair, I motioned her toward the bed. She placed her purse on it, but remained standing. She looked at me again, waiting.
“I’m not who you were expecting,” I said.
“I had no expectations.”
I shook my head. “You were expecting my boss.”
She pursed her lips and slowly shook her head. “The desk clerk told me a man had checked in and it wasn’t David.”
I blinked. “You call him David?”
“That’s his name. What do you call him?”
I frowned. Since he hadn’t used an alias, why not be honest? “Congressman Smith.”
She didn’t audibly sigh, but her eyes carried the meaning all the same.
I bristled. “The Congressman is a powerful man. I’m surprised he lets you call him by his first name.”
“He’s also just a man. And I’m one of his more intimate friends.”
“Friends?” I said, arching my brow.
I paused. Could they really be friends? I dismissed the idea—he was paying her.
“Friends. So that’s what they call it these days?” I asked.
She raised her eyebrows. “What would you call it?”
“An ‘exchange of services’ if I’m being polite. ‘Spending time with a hooker’ if I’m not.”
She stared at me, unfazed by my verbal dart, and then chuckled, low and throaty.
My eyes narrowed. “What’s so funny?”
“You. You’re what, twenty-two?”
“Twenty-three. And what of it?”
She nodded. “You must be the new intern that started last September, right after 9/11.”
She looked off into space for a moment, thinking. Then her eyes met mine and a small smile spread across her lips. “Thomas. Thomas Reed.”
“And you’re Sherri Bryant.”
She feigned a curtsey. “You’ve done your homework.”
“Of course I have.”
She raised her eyebrows, looking at me. Then she tilted her head toward the mini-bar. “Do you mind…?”
I shook my head, confused. She wants a drink now?
She slowly walked to the bar. She glanced at me as she extracted some bottles from the fridge.
“David always liked to start with a martini,” she said. “Would you like one?”
I again shook my head.
“It’ll help you relax.”
“What makes you think I need to relax?”
She shrugged. “Are you sure?”
“I’m fine,” I said firmly. This wasn’t how I’d rehearsed things.
“Okay.” She extracted two martini glasses from the bar and set them next to the shaker. “So will David be coming by?”
“No, and I’m asking the questions.”
“Oh.” She poured vodka and vermouth into the shaker. Then she added a little ice and put the lid on. As she gently shook it, she looked back at me. “So what are your questions?”
“I want to know why he’s been seeing you.”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Well, for one, I’ll pay you. More than my boss normally does.” I pointed at the bulging envelope I’d placed on the bureau when I first arrived.
She glanced at it, but didn’t immediately react. Instead, she filled both glasses. Taking one, she strolled over to the bureau and studied the thick wad of money.
“That’s a lot,” she said. “Where’d you get it?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Mmmm, I’m not so sure of that. I know you can’t afford it on an intern’s salary, which means someone else besides you knows about David and me.”
“No they don’t.”
She raised an eyebrow. “The price for answers from me is answers from you.”
That was a preview of The Price. To read the rest purchase the book.