Ah, that's better, she thought, extricating her tired feet from the nylon. She stuffed the hose in her jacket pocket, then hung the jacket on a hook behind her desk. Jane sank into the plush leather chair with a sigh. She was tempted to put her bare feet up on the desk and catch a nap, but there were things that yet needed her attention.
She glanced at her wristwatch. Ten o'clock. Ben might wonder where she was at this hour, but not for long. Theirs was a comfortable, but bland relationship. With the children grown and gone, husband and wife drifted in different directions. Ben Sedway had interests of his own and his wife's political career wasn't one of them.
She opened a buff folder and scanned a long list of donors and party faithful, underlining some, circling others, crossing out a few with her red pencil. She reached for the phone, determined to bolster her flagging poll numbers before the day ended. A quiet knocking at the door stayed her hand.
"Just a minute," she called. Christ, who was roaming around City Hall at this hour?
Jane grabbed her purse from the floor and, with practiced fingers, seized her compact and flipped it open to check her makeup. Her eyes looked tired and puffy. Well, I am tired, she reasoned, and no spring chicken, either.
She primped her hair and checked her teeth for lipstick smears, then dropped the compact back in her purse and said, "Come in."
Kenneth Jefferson, alderman from the seventh ward, opened the door to Jane's office.
Surprised, she all but shouted his name. "Ken!"
"Have you got a minute, Jane?"
"Of course, um. . . Please, come in." Remembering her bare legs and feet, she rolled her chair close to the desk.
"I'm sorry to bother you at this hour," he said with an easy smile. "But I thought we should talk."
"Oh?" And what could we possibly have to say to each other?
"Jane, I think things have gotten a little out of hand, lately."
"I don't know what you mean, Ken."
"I think you do," he said. "Some of your people are doing some pretty—shall we say—exuberant campaigning. They're out of line, Jane."
"None of my people, as you call them, are out of line," she said. "And they're paid to be exuberant."
"Are they paid to spread vicious lies about me?"
"Nobody from my camp has . . . "
"What about calling my brother a drug dealer?"
"I never said that."
"You implied as much and your campaign manager said so plainly."
"And I fired him."
"You just gave him a different job title," said Jefferson. "And what about my wife?"
"She's a lovely young woman. Haven't I always said so?"
"There's a rumor floating around that she's carrying another man's baby."
Jane shrugged. "You're the one who makes the poor woman schlep all over town giving speeches when she's eight months pregnant. You can't blame me for what some people might think."
"I can if you put the thought in their heads," he said. "You know I never accused your husband of being gay."
"Ben's not gay!"
"So what?" The alderman leaned across her desk. "The point is I never said he was. See what I mean?"
If she did, she wasn't about to admit it. "You're much too sensitive, Ken," she said. "Perhaps you should consider withdrawing from the race."
"No, I don't believe I will." He smiled and inclined his head in the direction of the incumbent's office. "Hizzoner the mayor is vulnerable. His approval ratings are in the shitter. I can beat you in the primary, Jane, despite your slanderous attacks. And I can beat him in the fall.
Jefferson stretched his lanky frame and cracked his knuckles in a great show of nonchalance. "I'm going to win, Jane. My time has come."
"Your time?" She slapped a palm down on her blotter. "Your time? It's my time, you pipsqueak!"
Jane leapt to her bare feet and stabbed the air with a manicured finger. "You think you can just waltz into the mayor's office? You're a first term alderman for Chrissake!"
"We're both members of the city council, Jane," he said evenly. "I'd say that puts us on equal footing."
"Not even close, buster!" Alderwoman Sedway spun from behind her desk so fast, her skirt twirled and showed a fluttering glimpse of her bare thighs. "I worked my way up from the PTA. The fucking PTA! Do you know how many peanut butter cookies I had to eat to get to be president of the goddamned PTA?"
"Well, no I . . . "
"Six years I spent with the mommy mob," she shouted. "Then another eight years on the district school board and three terms as alderperson. Unlike you I've paid my dues. I've been on trade junkets and fact-finding missions from Poughkeepsie to Hong Kong and back. I've kissed drooling babies and hairy corporate asses until I could puke!"
Her eyes sparkled and her bosom heaved with the passion of her cause. "I'm going to be the next mayor, Kenny—because I've fucking well earned it!"
"Wow, Jane," he said with unconcealed admiration. "I never knew you had such fire."
"What you don't know could fill a boxcar," she told him. "You come breezing in from out of nowhere—young, articulate, handsome and, um . . . and. . . "
"You're black! There I said it. So what? You can't deny it gives you an unfair advantage."
"It's true and you know it," she insisted. "You've drained my support in the African-American community, you've made me look stodgy and old to young voters, and women think you're . . . " Her voice trailed off and her eyes betrayed a secret longing.
"Look here, Jane," he said taking a gentle grip on her shoulders. "Maybe we can work something out."
"I don't see how." She leaned close and stroked the lapel of his jacket with her finger. "I'm going to be mayor if I have to bury you and your whole family."
"Christ, you're a bitch!"
"Yes . . . Now kiss me, damn it!"
They kissed and embraced with a fervor only two like minds could muster. Her hands circled his waist and scrabbled at his back. He reached under her skirt and cupped her generous but surprisingly firm bottom.
"I've never done this before," she said, fumbling with his belt. "I've never cheated on Ben."
"Me neither," he said, tugging down her panties. "I mean with, um . . . "
"Your wife's name is Melissa," Jane reminded him. She stepped out of her underpants, hiked her skirt up, and bent over her desk. "Hurry now. The janitor will be making his rounds soon."
Their time together was brief but glorious, a rushed but mutually satisfying intercourse between gladiators in the only game where both can win.
Sated, they pulled themselves together with haste, wordlessly and without undue displays of affection. Jane Sedway seated herself behind the desk, her legs tightly clenched. Ken Jefferson retreated toward the door, buttoning his jacket over his sweat-dampened shirt. She called after him.
"You realize this doesn't change anything," she said. "I'm still going to kick your ass in the run-off election."
"Sure. I understand, Jane. May the best man, er . . . person win."
"Oh, absolutely. Yes, indeed." She picked up her red pencil and idly tapped it against her chin. "By the way, Ken, is your sister still working for that escort service?"
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