by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 22: In Public View
Immediately after Wednesday’s private hearing of Kristy’s case, Raymond insisted to the politicians that his presence in the chamber of the House itself would be essential the following morning.
Lawrence, still surprisingly keen to please, at once arranged for the waiving of the normal requirement for the office of the applicant’s own Representative to approve the issue of a special public gallery pass. Mr Veight’s willingness to personally vouchsafe the ex-Consul would, he was promised, ‘be perfectly acceptable, of course, sir.’
While the Members of Congress then proceeded to work hard on another very long day’s agenda, Raymond enjoyed a pressure-free time in a sunny Washington, DC.
Kristy used her brief moments away from the chamber to prepare the draft of her extraordinary public statement. She then spent a long, late-evening hour reviewing and revising it in the hallowed company of Mr John Carough.
* * *
At nine o’clock on Thursday May 22, the House of Representatives resumed its heavy business load.
Two hours later, Raymond quietly took up his place, with Carla un-made by his side, and at eleven-fifteen precisely, normal business was abruptly suspended and Kristy Toresito rose to her feet.
‘Fellow Members, I stand before you today in shame and contrition.
‘In recent years, I have allowed myself to become involved in a business which, in several respects, was not altogether laudable.
‘My actions in this operation were largely motivated by my usual desire to help others, but in this particular case, that good intent evolved into something rather more selfish. I now regret much of what I have done.
‘You will, of course, be wishing to understand this better. I am afraid I shall not be able to fulfil those wishes. The enterprise in question is closely associated with other extremely sensitive, ongoing, international government activities. I have been personally involved in these for some time now, which partially explains my recently reduced accessibility and my apparent indisposition due to ill-health. And I regret that in the interests of National Security, I can divulge no more.
‘The management of this House is more fully apprised of the background situation, and I have provided them with a substantial personal statement — itself subject, of course, to the same constraints of National Security.
‘But, dear colleagues, I do not ask you to take only my word and theirs in this matter. In our public gallery sits an American of great honour and repute. His presence here today confirms the sensitivity of the situation, and I invite you all to look directly to him for confirmation of what I have said.’
The stern and clearly disapproving countenances of every person in the chamber turned now towards the gallery, and with only few exceptions they recognised the face of the famed international security negotiator.
And as Raymond Graves nodded his promised, silent affirmation, he also smiled a humble, empowered smile. Then, like Hilde van Wostraap in the European Parliament several weeks before, he at once observed, and automatically memorised, what hundreds of Representatives actually thought of the speech they had just heard.
Kristy called their attention back to herself.
‘So to each one of you, and to our great nation, I apologise absolutely for my mistakes in this affair. And I ask you, in this very special case, to trust in the judgement of those who enjoy our unqualified respect in this House, and to accept their immediate ruling without question or further investigation.’
She sat down to a wave of subdued murmuring but no outspoken objections. The Members were waiting expectantly and respectfully for Act Two of this unexpected mini-drama.
John Carough remained seated as he spoke.
‘Before I declare our judgement in this case, I wish to formally recognise and praise the part which Mr Raymond Graves continues to play in the related ongoing, confidential, special government operation. It represents a further shining episode in his long and honourable career of service to the nation.’
Now Carough rose slowly to his feet. The entire House followed suit and broke into enthusiastic applause, though for exactly what it had little idea.
The Domans’ conscripted envoy stood up and accepted this homage with another embarrassed but most carefully engineered smile, and once again read and recorded the truest thoughts of those who did the thinking for the American people.
With the deep and reassuring warmth of shared national pride now pervading the chamber, John Carough sat back down, and silence descended again.
‘Congresswoman Toresito, please stand.
‘As you have yourself already acknowledged, you have in no small measure betrayed the trust of this House and your constituents. You have acted in ways which many would judge immoral, and which, if circumstances allowed, the courts might find illegal. You deserve to pay an appropriate penalty.
‘However, we are well aware of the major role you have played, in extremely difficult circumstances, in the delicate operations which are related to this case in ways which even we cannot pursue. All who have been involved with you in that particular situation have spoken highly of your unfailing devotion to an uninvited duty. We have therefore taken this huge contribution of public service, so freely given, into consideration in deciding on the extent of your penalty.
‘You will accept an official Reprimand from this House.
‘You will donate $20,000 to a charity which shall be established to support any present or future victims of your dubious business operations.
‘You will, for a period of one full year, and at times and places which will ensure no interference with your continued service as a Congresswoman, perform an average of four hours per week as an unpaid and fully supervised bedside assistant in one or more Care Homes for the Elderly.
‘And you will lose your privileged use of the gymnasium and swimming pool in the Rayburn House Building for the next three months.’
Kristy blinked and nodded her unarguing assent.
‘Very well. You may resume your seat.’
Several voices were now being raised in mild objection.
John Carough continued.
‘In these extraordinary circumstances, and in the paramount interest of National Security, the House’s decision is final, and no further aspect of this case will be made available for public scrutiny.
‘God Bless America. Next business!’
* * *
Once the buzz had finally subsided, and the Representatives had returned to their published agenda, Raymond left the public gallery as discreetly as he could. Declining politely to respond to several approaches for further comment, he walked out of the building into the cleaner air of Capitol Hill.
Twenty minutes later he made a necessary decision and pulled out his phone.
‘DF? It’s Graves.’
‘Ah, I thought you might be calling soon.’
‘Anything to report?’
‘Nah. Zilfleger’s spent the last forty-eight hours working out who needs to go on his need-to-know list. It’s still changing every five minutes ...’
‘I see. Well, the Domans won’t stay patient for ever ...’
‘I appreciate that. And hey — I just heard about Toresito’s speech. That National Security stuff was going a bit far, wasn’t it?’
‘A lot farther than you and yours have gone with this thing, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Fair enough. But I am trying hard for you now. Give me another forty-eight hours. I’ll call you Saturday, if not before.’
‘Are you still with me, Carla?’
‘Of course, Raymond. It has all been fascinating. And Quo is looking forward to a full debriefing on the Representatives’ true thoughts — as soon as it’s convenient for you, that is ...’
‘Well, I’m doing my best to ignore them right now, and I’m going for a little walk along Independence Avenue. So I thought you and your friends might like a special treat — as long as you continue to keep you heads down, as it were ...’
‘How thoughtful of you! Where are you taking us?’
‘To the National Air and Space Museum.’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd